From the Center

Reflections from W&M's Writing Resources Center

Category: personal growth (page 1 of 3)

How My Time at the WRC Affects My Life as a Teacher

The WRC end-of-year party at Prof. Sharon Zuber's house in 2019. Luc Nguyen is in the center (fourth from the left).

The 2019 WRC end-of-year party at Prof. Sharon Zuber’s house. Pictured, from left to right: Zaira Mughal, Jessue Urgo, Sara Franklin-Gillette,  Luc Nguyen, Rachel Wilmans, Genny Thomas, Jackie Keshner, Davis Gold, Bianca Bowman.

When I interviewed for a position as a consultant at William & Mary’s Writing Resources Center during my freshman year, I spoke about my dreams of becoming an English teacher. I said that by helping my peers with their writing, I would be able to build skills that I would need in my future career. I drew upon my experience at my high school’s writing center and marveled at how much my own writing had improved once I was asked to explain good writing to others. The director of the WRC, the great Dr. Sharon Zuber, agreed and hired me.

Now, as a full-fledged English teacher in Fairfax County, I am reminded of my time at the WRC every day. When I meet with students about their writing, I conduct the conference just as I would for a consultation at the WRC. I ask the student to read their paper out loud, paragraph by paragraph. I jot down notes on a piece of scrap paper. I show students how to correct their mistakes and ask them to apply their new knowledge later on. I search for those priceless “lightbulb moments” in which students’ eyes widen and a puzzle piece snaps into place. I even reward students who come see me after school for extra help with a mint or piece of candy, just as I would at the WRC.

But when I think back to my time at the WRC, the memories that are most prominent don’t involve writing conferences at all. I remember afternoons spent behind the welcome desk, shooting the breeze with my coworkers as we waited for our consultees to show up. I remember late night “study sessions” after the WRC had closed, which usually turned into a contest of who could procrastinate on their work in the most creative way. I remember gathering with my coworkers at Dr. Zuber’s gorgeous home on the York River during finals week, soaking in sun rays while singing the praises of our graduating seniors. Don’t get me wrong; the actual “work” of writing conferences prepared me for my future in the classroom. But simply basking in the brilliance of my coworkers was invaluable in that it showed me the importance of supporting one another in the world of education.

Looking back, I realize now how much I leaned on my coworkers. They covered shifts when I had scheduling conflicts and reminded me to submit my payroll forms. They shared treats with me on nights I had missed dinner and comforted me when a consultation went awry. Sometimes, even when I wasn’t scheduled to tutor, I would just sit in the WRC and watch my coworkers work their magic. Everyone was just so brilliant in their own way, and I wanted to soak up every ounce of their expertise.

Teaching is no different. My job would be borderline impossible without the constant support that I receive from my coworkers. I borrow lesson plans and handouts, workshop ideas, and ask for advice about difficult classroom situations. At the end of the year, I realized that nearly every member of the English department had supported me in some way. The success that I have experienced so far is largely rooted in the generosity of my peers, from helping me to rearrange bulky furniture to offering kind words of encouragement at the copier. I hope that I can reciprocate their kindness as my career continues.

For a bevy of reasons, I have always felt a need to prove myself as someone who is capable of succeeding on my own. I suspect others feel the same, especially those at William & Mary. However, the WRC family reminded me about the importance of collaboration and community. As the world becomes increasingly polarized, I hope that others will glean some knowledge from my time at the WRC. To me, the WRC was so much more than a tutoring service. It was a microcosm of the ideal working world, one that collaboratively supported its individual members to reach incredible heights.


Formerly a consultant at the W&M Writing Resources Center, Luc Nguyen currently teaches English in Fairfax County. You can read more of his writing at https://medium.com/@lucnguyen14.

The Power of Collaboration

“Tutor.”  “Consultant.”  “Worker.”

As an employee at the Writing Resources Center, part of my job is to provide students with the tools they need to strengthen their writing, including the development of strong diction. It is ironic, then, that I find it so hard to find a single word that aptly describes my job at the WRC while conveying the immense benefits the job brings me. “Tutor” seems lopsided and authoritarian. “Consultant” evokes the image of stagnant, sterile office space. “Worker” implies a bitter lack of interplay. I find that the best word to describe what I do is one that can sometimes be taboo within the context of the Center: “Collaborator.”

Merriam-Webster states that to collaborate is “to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor.” As an employee of the Center, one of my central goals is to never take authorship over a student’s work. This definition of “collaborator” can mean just that; working “jointly” on a paper implies a co-authorship that steps beyond our reach as consultants. When I define “endeavor,” however, I don’t think of it merely within the scope of a paper. I think of it as the intellectual endeavor at large.

On a base level, working at the Writing Resources Center is collaborating with students to better their writing skills, thus helping them in their efforts to engage in the holistic intellectual endeavor. The goal of the Center is to give students the means to improve their writing themselves. We point out and explain grammar mistakes with the expectation students will fix them themselves later. We teach strategies for brain-storming and planning. We talk out ideas with our consultees so that they’ll better know how to articulate their ideas going forward. These efforts improve the ability of our students to communicate, and thus strengthen the college’s collective intellect.

It is not, however, just the consultees who gain writing expertise; I’ve perhaps learned more about good writing from students at the Center than I have in the entirety of my years prior. When I notice things that don’t work well in my consultant’s papers, it has a twofold effect on me. On a personal level, I recognize flaws in my own writing, thus allowing me to better express my ideas going forward. Meanwhile, on a consulting level, I become better at recognizing these flaws in others and helping them get past them. Additionally, I often recognize strengths in student writing I could use to improve my own. In short, consultations teach me a ton about writing, allowing me to improve as both a writer and consultant.

Beyond writing skills, collaborating at the Center makes me better versed in the intellectual world at large. Reading papers exposes me to topics I would never be introduced to in my own studies. Not only does this make me better versed in disciplines I would otherwise be uninformed about, giving me a broader view in my own scholarly endeavors, it also helps me become a better consultant. When I first started working at the Center, I was terrified any time someone came in with a paper in philosophy or history. After working with students in these fields, I’ve developed a far better understanding of what works in these papers and what doesn’t. Once again, my work at the WRC has improved me as a student and consultant.

With this constant give and take of learning and teaching, terms like “tutor” and “consultant” become obsolete. When I go in to work at the Center, I have no misconceptions about my job. While I hope a student will end up with a better paper through my consultation, this collaboration towards a better academic whole is what lies at the core of the writing center experience. We’re all inadvertent collaborators in each other’s learning, through exchanges as simple as small talk. The Center simply provides a place for the collaboration to be that much more conscious.

Writing Centers Grow Up, Too

writingThe transition from high school into university is a large leap for many: students, parents, teachers, administrators, and, yes, even writing centers. Adjusting to the higher quality of writing and topics in numerous subjects that aren’t found in typical high school papers is a daunting task for both the consultant and the consultee, but it’s a necessary leap in higher education that fosters personal and intellectual growth.

High school is often the first time students encounter a a group of people dedicated solely to helping them improve their writing. But high school writing centers are often not valued to the same extent as writing centers at the university level. When I was a junior in high school, I helped found my county’s first in-school writing center, comprised of about thirty students and one very dedicated advisor.

To be honest, it was very slow-going. First, we had to get the word out that we now existed. Then we had to prove our value. The students had no prior experience with a writing center and were wary not just of our authority, but also of our ability to help. The center was only open during lunch hours, so sessions were crammed into 15- to 30-minute chunks and focused more on quick grammar and punctuation fixes than on content and analysis. More often than not, the only students who came to visit were those who were required to by their teachers.

For me, the biggest adjustment to working in a writing center at the university level has been the significant increase in working with students who come in on their own accord—students who truly want to improve their writing and value the consultant’s perspective. Not only that, but now we have an entire hour to sit down and work through the piece together, which is something that allows for a deeper conversation about the topic and arguments.

What I have found most rewarding, however, is the ability to work with more international students. These sessions pose different challenges for both the writer and the consultant. Working with students from a variety of countries has helped me see writing in an entirely different way—every culture, every language, every person has a unique voice and view of the world, and helping these students develop their ideas in their writing is a very rewarding experience that isn’t found often in a high school setting.

A higher education, especially at a liberal arts university like William & Mary, encourages students to gain a broad perspective on subjects in multiple disciplines. University writing centers have adapted to the different levels and expectations of writing, giving students a place to find support as they grow as writers.

Image: https://medium.com/an-idea-for-you/the-two-minutes-it-takes-to-read-this-will-improve-your-writing-forever-82a7d01441d1

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