Figuring It Out

by Rebecca Riggs

Hampton, Virginia


"Hey, Wally!" I said, greeting my tutee as he entered the classroom and took a seat next to me.

"Hey!" he replied with a big smile. "I can hardly believe this is it, our last tutoring session for the semester."

"I know; it sure went by fast, and here we are, ready to talk about your final exam," I said, watching him thumb through his papers, looking for the one he wanted to go over.

"Ah, here it is," he said, pulling out some papers from the small stack in his notebook. "I know we're gonna go over stuff for the final exam, but I wondered if we could go over this paper, too?" he questioned, stuffing the rest of the papers back into his notebook.

"Sure, I don't see why not. We should have enough time to do both," I said with a smile.

"Great!" he said, smiling back at me.

Right from the start, when we met at the beginning of the spring semester, Wally and I had great rapport. Tutoring a student in a developmental English class was a curriculum requirement for the advanced composition class I was taking in college. Before meeting Wally, I was somewhat apprehensive about being a writing tutor. I remember torturing myself with questions like: "What if I give my tutee advice that earns him a big fat 'F';" or "What if he doesn't want to work with me at all when he finds out I'm legally blind?" Once I met Wally, my fears were laid to rest.

At our first session together, I explained my disability to Wally.

"I'm legally blind and have trouble reading regular print," I told him after our initial introduction.

Wally shrugged his shoulders and smiled. "That don't make no difference to me," he said, shaking his head from side to side.

Relieved, I smiled back and said, "Great!"

"If you're willing to work with me, I'm game," he said, then added, "We'll figure it out."

Figuring it out is exactly what we did. Since one of the best ways to discover writing mistakes is to read work aloud, I had Wally include his punctuation when he read. That way, I could still "see" what he wrote even though I could not read it for myself. This technique actually worked out well for us since Wally's only major writing issue was run-on sentences. Once I explained semicolon and conjunction usage, he began to get an "ear" for where breaks in his sentences were needed while he read aloud. In the weeks that followed, we discussed many different aspects of effective essay writing, such as the thesis statement, brainstorming for ideas, making a list for comparison essays and the importance of a clear introduction and a strong conclusion.

By the time Wally and I met for our last tutoring session, his writing structure was fine and he was able to catch most of his punctuation errors on his own when he read aloud.

"So, do you think you're all set now to write your final exam essay?" I asked at the end of our final session.

"Oh, yeah!" he replied confidently. "I'm a little nervous, but I know I've learned a lot during our sessions and I think I'll do okay."

"I KNOW you will do great!" I told him, patting him on the shoulder.

"Thank you," he said, rising from his chair to leave, "Thanks for working with me."

"You bet," I said with a smile, "it was my pleasure."

"Bye, Becky," he said before turning and walking out the door.

"Bye, Wally," I answered, watching him turn the corner and disappear; our tutoring sessions were over.

While I quietly sat at my desk waiting for my classmates to finish with their tutees, I couldn't help laughing at myself as I thought about the fear I had in the beginning that my tutee would flunk out and it would be my fault. What a long way I had come! I had helped Wally become a more confident writer, and he had helped me to be more confident in myself, not only as a writing tutor, but also in dealing with my disability. In the end, I had discovered that my blindness had nothing to do with my effectiveness as a tutor; instead, open-mindedness and two willing spirits working together was the right combination for successful tutoring.