By Jessica Gach

I cannot start thinking about my 16-week journey in ENG 260 and the Writing Center sixteen weeks ago. That is not enough. I need to start when my journey really started and no, I am not talking about the fall of 1988, when I started kindergarten. This journey started on January 19, 2021.

When I started my Legal Research and Writing course, I had no idea what I was getting into. At this point I had only written a handful of papers since graduating high school 20 years prior, and this was LEGAL writing which I had no experience in or even any idea what it was. Throughout the semester, I learned how different legal writing was versus English 121 writing and I loved it. It was research based; it wasn’t based on creativity or even my own opinion. It was based on fact, on historical cases and current cases, and current events. I felt like I found a part of myself (a puzzle piece if you will) in this class that I didn’t know was missing.

Towards the end of the semester, I received an email from my instructor, Judge Margaret Mullen, a woman who I had come to greatly respect. It was an email that simply said I know you are busy, and I don’t know if you’d be interested in being a paid peer writing tutor but… and she included a link to the peer writing tutor site. I had no words. I was at work, and I had to read the email (both sentences lol) a couple times before the realization set in. Judge Mullen, a retired Lake County judge, thought my writing was good enough to be a tutor. I laughed as I told my wife about it. She asked why I was laughing. I told her (what I still think, to be honest) I am not a writer; I am not smart enough to be a tutor. She looked me (as only she can) and told me I was being stupid. She asked why I would be recommended by someone for a position that requires recommendation if I didn’t deserve it.

After some long, usually late-night sessions of self-reflection and a couple conversations with my boss (I work full time and take night classes), I decided to apply for it never thinking I would actually get it. Well fast forward a few weeks (months?) and I interviewed for the position. I went about my life and then received the call with the job offer. Speechless again, I called my wife to tell her. I couldn’t believe it, but she could. She has always believed in me more than I do. After some serious consideration, I decided I was going to do it.

I talked earlier about finding a piece of me I didn’t know I was missing. I say this because I believe everyone is a puzzle, an ever-growing puzzle, but a puzzle none the less. I lost a lot of pieces along my almost 40-year journey; however in the past 10 years I have started to find them. Since my wife and I started dating, I have been filling in my puzzle, with pieces I had misplaced and with pieces I never knew were missing. I bit off more than I could chew this semester, but I am so glad I did (well I will be once it is all complete). You may wonder what all this nonsense has to do with my tutoring philosophy, but I promise it will all come together . . . maybe.

When I accepted the position, my dad asked why I had to take an English class to work as a tutor; didn’t being required to pay (to take the course) defeat the purpose of it being a paid position. I looked at him and had no answer; I had no idea what I was getting myself into. He asked what the class was about. I had no response; I didn’t know. At that point I still thought I was going to be the one with the red pen, the one I despised for most of my academic career, the one that stole my love of writing, the one that made me feel inferior.

Now that I have bored you with all my rambling, I will get to my tutoring philosophy which is, I don’t have one. I am still looking for that piece. When I said I bit off more than I could chew, I wasn’t kidding. This semester I took 4 courses, all while working full-time (accepting a promotion in the middle of the semester), being a wife, a mom, a sister, a daughter, and a friend (I think I might still have some). However, while I still have a lot of work to complete for this class, I can say that I learned A LOT. I learned that we are all works in progress, we are all puzzles looking for the missing pieces, and none of us have all the answers, except maybe Jenny.

My take on myself being a puzzle is my philosophy for writing. When I start a session, I start it with very few pieces to the puzzle that is in front of me. Sometimes all I have is a name, maybe a class, which is not much to go on. And sometimes the writer I am working with has the pieces and sometimes they are missing them too. As the session gets started, we start finding the pieces together. I find pieces that allow me to help the writer find their pieces. Scaffolding is the key to each hour-long puzzle. I am only a guide in the writing process. I don’t have the pieces the writer is looking for, but I can help them find them. My goal in each session is for the writer to leave with more pieces than they came with. 

Each session is a new puzzle; some have more pieces than others. Each puzzle is as unique as the writer I work with. The diversity in the writing center is what keeps me coming back each week. In the past 16 weeks I have had 14 sessions and only a handful have been for English courses, which is what I thought would be the majority. I have done puzzles about biology, business law, dental hygiene, psychology, and human services. Most of these are classes I have never taken and have no business giving advice about. BUT I learned in Jenny’s class that I don’t need to have all the answers. I don’t have to know anything about the subject. What I need is to have the desire to help the writer find those answers. Many of the students I have worked with are smarter than I am; however I am there to help them find those pieces. Sometimes they just need a nudge; they just need help getting to the ladder they already have.

Last summer my wife and I brought our son to the BIG kid playground in our subdivision. Of course, my son made a beeline for the ladder to the big slide. I showed him/told him how to climb the ladder, it took a bit, but he did it. This past weekend we gave him an early Christmas present, a BIG big boy bed. It is a loft bed and after my wife and I built it, my son was so excited to climb up it. My wife wanted to pick him up; I stopped her. Instead, I showed him the ladder and explained it was just like at the park. He was cautious about it at first; now he is a pro. We use scaffolding in everything we do; I just never knew there was a name for it. The joy I feel watching my son figure out his big boy bed is comparable (very different but comparable all the same) to how I feel in the writing center. I don’t have all the answers, but I will try to help you find them.

My favorite session of the semester was my third solo session, my first zoom session. The writer was in Business Law, and we did absolutely no writing. She had to write a case brief and was in the very early stages. After she admitted that she didn’t understand the case, I suggested she read the case to me. As she read it, I would stop her as she stumbled as I could tell she wasn’t understanding what she was reading. I could tell because it was the same thing I do when I don’t understand what I am reading. I just keep going, hoping it will come together. We talked through the case, and at the end of the session, I could tell that she found some of the pieces she was looking for, and I found some pieces of my own. This is the session that made me realize that maybe, just maybe, I belong here.

When I started this journey in January of 2021, I had never been to the writing center and didn’t have any ideas of what it was. The only idea I had of a writing center was a red pen. I have talked about the red pen in class a lot, and I have done so because the red pen and 5 paragraph essays shaped what I thought writing was. After these 16 weeks, I no longer believe that the red pen, 5 paragraphs and proper grammar is what makes a writer. Actually, I think it is quite the opposite. I believe red pens, strict structure and only focusing on grammar is what hurts a writer.

I want to finish by thanking each of you; we are all very different people with very different paths in front of and behind us. We are all working on our own puzzles and, with your help, I have found another piece of mine.

Jessica Gach

Jessica Gach has been a Peer Writing Tutor in the CLC Writing Center since August 2021. This piece was her “Final Tutor Philosophy” for the English 260 Course (Intro to Writing Center Theory & Practice) which new tutors take while they work their first semester in the writing center.

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