Check One: Tutor Hat, Teacher Hat, Facilitator Hat, Some/all/none of the Above

By McCarthy, Meesh; OBrien, Erin | Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview

Check One: Tutor Hat, Teacher Hat, Facilitator Hat, Some/all/none of the Above


McCarthy, Meesh, OBrien, Erin, Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge


I. INTRODUCTION: WELCOME TO THE CONTACT ZONE

1. Choosing A Hat (Or Not)

When reading journal articles which hat(s) does a reader unconsciously or consciously choose? Which hat(s) does the same reader choose in paper-writing conferences? When readers look at the title of this essay, which hats (e.g., tutor, teacher, student, workshop facilitator, tutee, writing center director, and/or other) do they instinctively wear?

We explicitly point out the complicated nature of a reader's and academic's hats and roles because this paper examines our complex roles and identities as Reading, Writing, and Study Strategies Center tutors at a university (University of Massachusetts Boston) and in a larger context which increasingly recognize reading and writing center tutors as having expertise about the writing process and the expertise to assist with the writing process. Particularly, we are calling into question academia's and our own former notions of writing center (1) tutor-identity and -authority.

2. Tutor Identity and Autoethnography

Pratt (1998) uses Guaman Poma's multilingual, cross-cultural, and multi-authoritied message to the King--The First New Chronicle and Good Government (1613) (2), a message apparently never read by its intended audience--as a prime example of a text created in the "contact zone." Pratt defines "contact zone" as "social space ... where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power" (p. 173). Poma's is a model "autoethnographic text, ... a text in which people undertake to describe themselves in ways that engage with representations others have made of them" (p. 175, emphasis in the original).

We situate ourselves in Pratt's contact zone because this approach facilitates our expression of tutor values through cross-commentary, subversion of definitions, dependence on simultaneous systems of authority, questioning of identity, and recognition of the multiple forms of epistemology and literacy present in the environments in which we and other writing center tutors are situated (see Bawarshi & Pelkowski, 2008, pp. 88-93, for example). This approach allows us to inform about the writing center tutor role (which we focus on here, rather than on the subject/content tutor) as multi-faceted without abandoning the issue of tutor-integrity.

The literature recognizes the writing center tutor as non-singular. Recently, Murphy and Sherwood (2008) reaffirmed this characterization (and, indirectly, they echo Pratt and Poma) with their initial claim in The St. Martin's sourcebook for writing tutors. "Tutoringis contextual. [It] ... takes place within a number of sociocultural and interpersonal contexts that lend ... complexity to the tutor's role (p. 1, emphasis in the original). We are not authoring the first "point of entry into the dominant circuits of print culture" for the writing center tutor (Pratt points out that autoethnographic texts often take on this duty), yet we do implicate ourselves as being multiply informed, like Poma (trained and educated by both his Inca culture and the conquering Spanish one) (Pratt, p. 175). For us, emerging recognition of the writing center tutor's knowledge and roles is associated with our multiple and multiplying allegiances and functions. We treat the construction of tutor identity using an autoethnographic approach because, in our morphing (and increasingly more accepting) context, the literature's and the academy's perceptions of tutor roles are inadequate. (3)

3. The Tutor as Deliberately Composite

In Reed-Danahay's (1997) positioning of the autoethnography as a post-modern venue, she writes that "the coherent, individual self has been ... called into question" (p. 2).

The identity of the writing center tutor is composite, one situated within potentially conflicting expectations of the complementary roles that the tutor fills. …

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