By Samantha Timm and Chelsea Fesik
Have you ever wondered what it might be like to teach a class as an undergraduate? In this post, Samantha Timm and Chelsea Fesik will explore what it has been like to fall down the writerly rabbit hole and into the strange and wonderful world of peer mentoring and peer teaching. With one foot in the realm of the student, and the other in the realm of the teacher, we have had to think deeply about our positionality as peer writers, tutors, and instructors. How do these different identities shape the ways that we connect with our students? How have our academic backgrounds shaped our styles of teaching? This post will explore a myriad of questions, partially for your entertainment, dear reader, but also in order to make sense of what these experiences mean in our own lives. Buckle up, and enjoy the ride!
What we do:
KimMarie Cole, Associate Professor of English and Coordinator of Composition at the State University of New York at Fredonia works with students when she’s not wielding a hammer. A 2002 graduate of UW-Madison (PhD, English), she taught in the Writing Center from 1999-2001, Photo by Fredonia Marketing and Communication
By KimMarie Cole, State University of New York at Fredonia
My thanks to Brad Hughes for the invitation and opportunity to share these ideas with you and to my colleague Heather McEntarfer who provided helpful comments and insights on early drafts of this post.
My family and I are building a house. For more than 2 years, it’s been at various times our hobby, our passion, our albatross, our marathon. The house sits a quarter mile off the nearest road at the end of a dirt driveway that may prove our undoing in winter.
Digging the Pond
A few weeks after we closed on the property, excited and eager about the possibilities and ridiculously naive about all things construction and rural, our neighbor came back and offered the insight that we needed a pond. We nodded. Seemed like a good long-term project. Two days later we arrived to find him and his tractor excavating, digging the pond.
Our initial gratitude and befuddlement in equal measure have faded as work on the house progresses. We were glad to get the pond, yet it felt weird not to have any say in its location or its timing. Today, it’s hard to imagine a time when the pond wasn’t there, first a big dirt hole and now full of water and frogs who croak loudly when it’s about to rain and in the evenings as we try to finish one more task. Certainly, though, as the photo record shows, it has changed a lot in the past two years. (more…)
by Julia Dauer
Author photo, by Rebecca Dauer
Julia Dauer has worked at the Writing Center since 2012. She is a graduate student in literary studies at UW-Madison, where she writes about American literature and teaches literature and composition courses.
I went to a small liberal arts college, where writing spaces were relatively uniform. The Writing Center was housed on the fourth floor of the only library on campus, right next to the English building. When I came to UW-Madison, navigating campus spaces was a real challenge for me. All of a sudden there were so many! And they were so different!
Of course, UW isn’t the biggest campus in the country, nor does it have the widest range of spaces. But it is a large campus, serving a large student population — the University lists its enrollment at over 43,000, and nearly 30,000 of those students are undergraduates. And to me, coming from a college of 2,400, it seemed huge. (more…)
By Leah Misemer @lsmisemer
Leah Misemer is a graduate student in English Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the TA Coordinator of the Online Writing Center there. While her dissertation is on serial commercial comics, she is also interested in media specificity and technology in writing centers. This is her sixth semester working as an instructor at the UW-Madison Writing Center.
Photo of the author taken by Nicole Relyea
When I first trained as a peer tutor at Washington University in St. Louis, I was trained to look at paper drafts. During my first shift as a Writing Center instructor at University of Wisconsin-Madison, a student brought in a draft on a laptop. I was a bit flummoxed about what to do. While it was great for the writer to be able to make changes to the draft during the session, it felt less collaborative than sessions with paper drafts. I had to ask the student to scroll down and up because I didn’t want to touch her expensive electronic equipment, and this felt awkward, like I was shut out of the draft in some way.
This is my sixth semester on staff at UW-Madison and I continue to have a moment of irrational anxiety every time I see a student pull out a laptop during an appointment. This is not to say I don’t have productive appointments with students toting laptops; when I can get students to cut and paste large sections of a draft, the computer facilitates actual draft work the student can take home. But appointments with laptops aren’t all like that. (more…)
By Michelle Niemann
Michelle Niemann is the assistant director of the writing center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for 2013-2014. Her first tutoring experience was in the writing center at Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, in 2003 and 2004. She recently defended her dissertation and will receive her PhD in English literature from UW-Madison in May.
Michelle bird-watching at Horicon Marsh in Wisconsin. Photo by Liz Vine.
Tutoring in the writing center at University of Wisconsin-Madison since 2009 has given me a great gift: it has shown me the power of being interested. In anything, or anyone. In the next student signed up to meet with me and whatever project they’re working on. At the same time, as a graduate student in English literature at UW-Madison, I’ve also learned a lot about the corresponding power of being interesting.
Being interesting is, quite rightly, the coin of the realm in advanced scholarship. And I’ve absolutely, nerdily loved the opportunity to pursue my interests in poetic form and sustainable farming by writing a dissertation about organic metaphors in both fields. But I’m also grateful that I’ve been working in the Writing Center, because tutoring constantly reminds me, and indeed requires me, to look up and notice at least some of the other interesting things going on around me. (more…)
Neil Simpkins and a delightful bunny
By Neil Simpkins
Neil is a first-year writing center instructor at UW-Madison and a graduate student in Composition and Rhetoric. He previously worked at the Agnes Scott College writing center as a tutor and coordinator. He loves cats, rabbits, and tutoring personal statements.
In a rare moment of downtime during my writing center shift, I started to read Jay Sloan and Andrew Rihn’s article “Rainbows in the Past were Gay: LGBTQIA in the WC.” Early in the article, they unearth a letter to the editor of Writing Lab Newsletter congratulating the newsletter’s return to ivory paper after several issues had been released on pink and purple paper, stating, “The rainbows in the past were gay, but as the survey results pointed out, not always compatible with the old Xerox machine.” Stark and Sloan unpack the fact that this stray mention of the word “gay” actually represents the paucity of writing center work that sufficiently addresses the needs of LGBTQ tutors and clients (I’ll use this acronym designating lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer as my adjective of choice for talking about this particular community, for which acronyms and descriptions abound); this humorously, unintentionally queer sentence is one of the few times that the word “gay” is even used in the corpus of the Writing Lab Newsletter.
Lauri Dietz, left, and Matthew Pearson, right.
By Matthew Pearson and Lauri Dietz, DePaul University.
Matthew Pearson, a UW-Madison Writing Center alum, is the director of the Writing Fellow Program and Faculty Development at the University Center for Writing-based Learning (UCWbL) at DePaul University in Chicago, IL. Lauri Dietz directs the UCWbL and is part of the UW-Madison coaching tree thanks to the invaluable mentoring Stuart Greene and John Duffy provided her while a graduate student at Notre Dame.
By Taryn Okuma, The Catholic University of America.
Taryn Okuma is Director of the Writing Center and Clinical Assistant Professor of English at The Catholic University of America (CUA) in Washington, D.C. She received her Ph.D. in Literary Studies from UW-Madison in 2008. While at Madison, she served as the Co-Director of the English 100 Tutorial Program for two years and worked at the Writing Center for four years.
I feel fortunate to be posting after Kristiane, whose thoughtful discussion of transfer with Caroline Levine provides valuable insights to the connections between the work that we do in writing centers, writing across the curriculum, and literature classrooms. I, too, have been thinking a great deal about the intersection of instruction in writing centers and in classrooms. Although we have a moderate amount of traffic at our center, I’m also very aware that we are only seeing a small percentage of the students who could benefit from visiting us. One of the questions that I come back to again and again as a WC director is, “Why aren’t more students visiting the Writing Center at CUA?” And as an English professor, I ask, “Why aren’t more of my students visiting the WC?”
Writing center at the European University Viadrina during a peer tutor education session
By Katrin Girgensohn. This is kind of a birthday post. Six years ago, we opened the doors to our nice spacious room after I, as a PhD student, brought the idea of a writing center to my university and convinced the president that we really should have one. At this point we only had a handful of writing centers all over Germany, so it was not at all normal for a university to open a writing center. Although I had very good arguments, what might have been most convincing was that I was able to get a starting grant from the Hans Böckler Foundation.
In Germany we say that after six years life gets serious, because this is the age when children start school. However, our writing center’s life got quite serious after only three and a half years, when a huge part of our funding was suddenly not available any more. Until then, our writing center had been more or less dependent on funding that came from outside the university. The cancellation of our funding was nothing personal and had nothing to do with the writing center itself – it was a complete governmental program that was canceled. The notification was a shock for me and seemed to be quite unfair because the writing center was very successful and had grown incredibly in only three years of existence. We not only offered writing consulting and writing groups, but also worked with high schools, had already earned a national and international reputation and were even quite famous due to our first “long night against procrastination”.
By Elisabeth Miller and Stephanie White
Sunday evenings at Starbucks... (photo by Bryce Richter)
On a Sunday morning in February, five students brave the icy winds howling off Lake Mendota, knock the snow and slush off their boots, and straggle into the student union toward a table near the windows looking over a snowy Memorial Union Terrace. That night, another five students wrap up their weekends by braving the same wind and snow to gather in a Starbucks near campus. And throughout the week, two other groups meet on campus, taking time from the busy schedules to gather with groups of their peers to work together on their writing. The students talk about their weeks and laugh about Facebook status updates before getting down to business, and throughout their meetings, the students’ warmth towards each other is as palpable as the snow outside. Indeed, these are no one-off study groups cramming for an impending midterm. These are groups of undergraduate honors senior-thesis writers meeting to encourage, support, productively challenge, and reinforce each other’s work as they work on projects that include discussing the idea of modernity in sculpture, analyzing data from a sleep lab dealing with parasomnia, studying rock formations in New Zealand, examining the archives of Asian-American publications on our campus, and much more.