Almost 7 years ago (woah!) I took my writing professor up on his offer of a tutoring position at the University Writing Center. I was approaching the end of my sophomore year at Soka University of America, and I spent the following summer desperately studying every book about writing, teaching writing, and peer tutoring that I could come across (you'd be surprised at how many I came across!). I created a big, fat file of resources for peer tutors and took it back for my junior year at college. And I jumped into working with my classmates, with my juniors, and even with my seniors on their obscure capstone topics. There were days when I loved every minute of my time at the Writing Center, but I'm not going to lie, there were also days when I wondered what I'd gotten myself into. Here's the thing — before I had this job, I use work as a student assistant at the Writing Center, and it was one of those wonderful student jobs that left you at least half the time to do your own homework as you manned the desk on weekend mornings when, really, no one used the writing center. Even when there was work, it was easy work — making a spreadsheet, filing some papers, nothing that required brainpower.
Now, I was tutoring. I had to wrap my mind around economics final papers and psychology senior theses and other complex material I was not that interested in to begin with. If I had several appointments back to back, I'd leave the place exhausted. And it was most exhausting right around midterms and finals' weeks — that was when everyone most wanted writing help, and that was when I could least afford to be exhausted.
The best part — both jobs paid the same!
There were days when I wondered about this whole tutoring thing, about whether I was up for that kind of exhausting work while in the even more exhausting process of trying to get a rigorous college education through various health dramas and surgeries... but eventually, I stuck with it for the next two years of college. In my last semester, I also TA'd for a freshman writing class, again for the same $8 an hour. Ultimately, it boiled down to the fact that I loved that work, even if I sometimes longed for the lazy Sunday mornings when i was paid for surfing the internet at the front desk! And now, as I look back, I think of sticking with that work as one of the best choices of my undergraduate life.
First, nothing teaches you to write as effectively as teaching writing does. Nothing. So much of who I became and am becoming as a writer grew (and grows) out of working with others on their writing, out of the way in which that keeps me alive to words and their meanings and their joys and their frustrations. Just for that, it's worth it.
Second, that early experience in tutoring writing in a structured space, where I had plenty of more experienced colleagues with whom to bounce ideas and ask for help, prepared me for the tutoring I would do in graduate school, which paid my rent for a year! I more than made up any difference in pay that I thought there should be between random student jobs and something requiring specialized skills.
But in the last few weeks, I've found the most important reasons for why I'm glad I followed my heart and worked my heart out then... I've stumbled into work here in Delhi that makes me feel so alive and that I would never have managed without that early experience. My passions for writing and facilitating have met my passion for educational theory and change in a series of writing workshops I am teaching for research fellows at the Department of Education at Delhi University. It's still as exhausting as it was seven years ago — especially as 30 minute sessions give way to 3 hour classes — but it's also just as stimulating and invigorating as it was 7 years ago. You should see me excitedly talking to a teacher about analyzing the impact of a school's organizational hierarchies on curriculum transaction, or getting another teacher to freewrite about why she is researching violence in the classroom, or trying narrow down a thesis statement about the impact of different kinds of evaluation strategies. I wish you could see my mind working at a hundred miles an hour, pulling together all the different classes I took and different skill sets I developed, drawing upon that incredible inter-disciplinary base from which I can work with all kinds of writers from all kinds of backgrounds. I'm at my most alive there, completely incredulous that these different aspects of my intellectual life and passion — all of which I can trace back to SUA in one way or another — can belong together.
Back while I was in college, there was no way to know that such work existed, and even now, I feel myself creating it as I go along, but it's so wonderful now to be able to look back with deep gratitude for the incredible liberal arts education I received and the incredible work experiences that trained me for what I could create here, half the world away. In general, I think I tend to gush about SUA less than many of my classmates, but today, I felt the need for this shoutout. To my undergraduate college in particular, and to the incredible training and nurturing power of solid early work experience in general.