Letter from Norman, April 2009Apr 10th, 2009 | By IWCA Web Editor | Category: Archives
Cheers! Join me as I celebrate 20 years since my first day as a peer tutor. When I look back, I see my professor Tom Reigstad (it was an internship experience for his class on the teaching of writing that placed me as a peer tutor) sending me on a path that would later define who I am as a person, a teacher, and a leader. Now, the delights of having peer tutors around me every day offset the worst case scenarios on the budget cuts, the unproductive meeting with the playground bully (he not a student!), and the relentless wind that comes sweepin’ down the plain.
So while the tulips try to poke through the fresh sleet here, I am looking not just over the past twenty years, but the past two months, and I want to share what I have learned.
Middle-East-North Africa Writing Centers Conference
In February I visited the United Arab Emirates University and met their peer tutors. As is the case in many Muslim countries, the school is segregated for classes and even for cafeterias. At UAEU there is a men’s writing center and a women’s writing center and for the occasion of the Middle East-North Africa Writing Centers Association Conference, the men’s center was open to all.
Here is a view of conference participants working on an activity facilitated by Mark Hill, the director of the men’s writing center. Recently they held a poetry slam there and on the board in the back of the room are photos and bios of all the peer tutors.
I not certain how to say this without sounding naïve, or sounding as if I am erasing the important, real, and valuable differences between our cultures, but I found the students so much like those in the United States. The peer tutors in this region struggle with their schedules, get recognized on campus as “that guy in the writing center,” and forget their lunch money. They are interested in making sure students are comfortable and productive, as evidenced by a presentation given by peer tutors from the American University of Sharjah. Just like the peer tutors outside my office door right now, they like to talk about writing, movies, graduate school plans, and family news.
Jennie Murray, one of the conference co-chairs, asked Saif Ali Ahmed to be my local host and driver. We shared some good talks together; here is his answer to my question about what he is really excited about academically: “I want figure out how things get built and then build more things.” He is an engineering major and a peer writing tutor in the men’s writing center.
Peer tutors from both the men’s and the women’s writing centers at United Arab Emirates University wore yellow sashes to let the conference guests know that they were local hosts.
Following this conference, Cecelia Hawkins, soon to be returning to the U.S. from her time at Texas A & M, Qatar, put a web resource page up: http://tcc.qatar.tamu.edu/1865.aspx
. Take a look and I know you will agree that this is much needed model for our regional web pages; imagine collecting the session handouts, the videos and PowerPoint slides, and the panel talks after your regional conference and creating a kind of conference proceedings online.
Read more about the conference in the UAE Writing Center’s newsletter at http://www.ugr.uaeu.ac.ae/writing_centre/docs/newsletterissue5.pdf .
IWCA Collaborative at CCCCs
In March the CCCCs in San Francisco offered another opportunity for IWCA to meet directors and peer tutors from all over the world. Thanks to Carol Haviland and Nathalie Singh-Corcoran, co-chairs of this first Collaborative, the day was both fun and stimulating. The Writing Circus was a highlight – the interaction and noise and creativity of the circus performers got us all thinking about the “three ring” ways our writing centers often operate.
See the Collaborative in action, thanks to Rob Lee, IWCA unofficial official photographer.
Finally, after listening to President Obama’s education speech I was struck by two recommendations: first, Obama wants to reward good teaching. If that truly happens, I expect that many writing center directors from K-20 should be recognized. The work we do every day is teaching and some of the best kind: at the point of need, with and not to others, and in the spirit of collaboration.
Second, Obama and I agree that schools (the buildings themselves) are seriously underused and we need to think about how to expand the hours for the community. The proposed longer school days, longer school years, and more “open door” access for local learners, offers a perfect opportunity for writing centers; seize this day! Get involved with your local school district somehow and propose an afterhours writing center satellite. Figure out how to provide mini-modules for local learners who want to write their memoirs or a letter to the landlord. Work on getting the cross age tutoring going by creating an afterschool program for young writers, like 826 Valencia (http://www.826valencia.org/), drawing from your regional teaching college and inviting students preparing to teach to join you in an internship or service learning experience.
With these tough economic times, we need to show that we have something to offer all the time to all people. If and when the happy days are here again, we can collect that IOU from the dean and hire a bunch of new people, buy new computers, and throw more hard candy around. But for now, we need to realize that most relationships are free and can show a great return on investment.