Writers’ Room Tutoring Blog

This is the 826 Writers’ Room Tutoring Blog.  This is a space for tutors to share and reflect on their their experiences.

What is A Tutor?

By Kristy Chow, Northeastern Student and Writers’ Room Tutor

A tutor is a mentor. This especially holds true for tutors that build long-lasting relationships with their students. Even in the short time I spent with students at the 826 College Essay Boot Camp, I felt I was making an impact on their future, helping them grow as people and reflect upon themselves. Working with the John D. O’Bryant students, I could feel myself growing as a tutor and learning to have discussions with students, something I learned was important to help the students reflect upon their experiences. Tutoring has also helped me with my writing as I learn more about the writing process and how others view your writing. So far tutoring has been a great experience and I would like to continue building relationships to grow as a tutor and as a person.

Don’t Skip the Small Stuff

By Katie Zepf, Emerson Student and 826 Program Intern

When I first started tutoring, I was terribly nervous. I worried that students wouldn’t take me seriously, and that I wouldn’t serve their needs. Students often have assignments they need to complete within the short amount of time they have with a tutor, and I wanted to ensure we covered all of their work.

In order to achieve this goal, I began to skip the small stuff. After short introductions, we jumped right into homework. There wasn’t much talking that didn’t involve fractions or grammatical errors. I didn’t allow them to take breaks unless they completed a certain amount of work. In the haste to ensure the student finished their homework, I forgot to discover who they were. I didn’t find out if they had a really bad day, hated math, or adored the PB&J they had for lunch. I didn’t realize that stuff mattered.

It took a student breaking down into tears because of their terrible day and hatred for spelling homework for me to realize that I should get to know the student before working with them. Once I started chatting, joking, and playing with them, my sessions went so much better. Developing a relationship with the student changes everything. When they like and trust you, they are far more willing to work with you. Taking ten minutes to chat with them at the beginning of a session can set a positive, open tone for the rest of the time you have together!

Tutoring and Mentoring Reflection

By Garvan Giltinan, English First Teacher and 826 Boston Intern

I received my education in a Christian Brothers school in Ireland in the 1980s. The Brothers, in their long, dark robes and dour faces, were not particularly cuddly and approachable, so tutoring and mentoring were not something the order took into consideration on any serious level. Unless you played sports. If you played sports, you had all the mentors you wanted. My friends and I were a creatively minded bunch, writing plays and short stories, and later in high school, playing music. However, when I reflect back, now over 30 years on, and with the benefit of 12 years teaching in an American high school, I realize what was missing from my education: someone who cared about, and supported my creative and academic (when I did my school work) imagination. I did not go to college until I was 30 years old. I didn’t have the support or confidence to take that step when I left high school.

Mentoring and tutoring for me are serious responsibilities. The teenage years are difficult enough with exam pressures, peer pressure, emotional catastrophe, and a myriad of other issues bombarding an individual, that having a creative outlet and mentor to support that creativity (whether it be academic or not) is important for the growth of a student. Why do I see this as important? Well, as you now know, It’s personal: I never had that support. But I have seen the important benefit of tutoring/mentoring. I have seen students develop the confidence to push themselves and take important risks, build opinions, and see the power of continuous learning, in whatever form that may take (one of my best creative writers left high school, never went to college, became a car mechanic, and continued writing his stories. Continuous learning).

Confidence to put yourself out there, to risk creatively, or to fail dramatically–yet continue on regardless– are what mentors and tutors are there to support.

826 Boston and the Writers’ Room, back when I was in high school, would have been my second home. The staff in the Writers’ Room love reading, love writing, and love passing that love on to others. In twelve years of teaching, I have never come across a system of support quite like 826. Everyone needs a mentor or tutor. Just ask Luke Skywalker. Not Anakin, because that didn’t turn out too well.

The Importance of Forming Personal Connections

By Tyler Nicholson, Northeastern Student and 826 Writers’ Room Tutor

My experience in The Writer’s Room thus far has been overwhelmingly positive. Going into the Writer’s Room for the first time, I was extremely apprehensive. I didn’t want to feel like I was ‘pestering’ or ‘disturbing’ students, so I just kind of laid low in the background. I didn’t know what to do, until I approached two students who were sitting on the couch, and we immediately hit it off.

It made me realize one of the most important parts of tutoring. Although it is imperative to help students through their papers and processing their ideas, it is also extremely important to form a personal connection with students. Forming that connection opens them up more to suggestions and to working with you, and that has been one of the most crucial discoveries I have made in my time at the Writer’s Room.

Through my conversations with one student at two different tutoring sessions, I was able to find out how much we have in common. In trying to get them to open up, we started talking about our future aspirations. We both aspire to be respected scientists in our different fields, we both professed our hatred towards mathematics, and we also bonded over our mutual love of hip hop along the way. Forming these connections made it a lot easier to jump into whatever we had to work on, and also gave us something to talk about to lighten our moods and get us back working when things started to slow down or productivity was lacking. One of the other benefits of having a connection with one student and following up with them on more than one occasion is that I got to see how their ideas for their writing have developed more fully in between meetings.

Carrying Qualities 

By Raashid Chowdhury, Northeastern Student and 826 Writers’ Room Tutor

Though I lack experience being a tutor, I have had countless opportunities to examine tutoring styles from a student’s point of view. The first personal mentors I had were hired by my parents to properly supply me with a religious foundation. However, what ended up happening was that I was taught ideas that not only contradicted between past tutors and even my parents, but with their own lessons as well. It made for a confusing childhood to say the least.

This disorientation helped me to come to a realization about teaching but not until I was able to first experience being taught outstanding individuals. I spent many summers and weekends at a prep program. There I was taught by many teachers who I hold in high regard but the most memorable were a pair of math tutors. Each came from their respective high schools but styles were quite alike. I can recall them monitoring the class and if a student were to have a pace of his or her own ahead of the class, they would keep pace with both this student as well as the rest of the class. They kept what could be done in mind opposed to the minimum that had to be done.

Another quality that distinguished these two was their personalities. I spoke of them as individuals because I believed they formed a bond with those they taught that went beyond the simple hierarchy of teacher and student. They became people that I would try one-upping with a problem so that we could mutually explore the solution. This made my time with them enjoyable and left me excited for the next session once time was up.

Thanks to these experiences as well as many more, I know what I would want most from a tutor. I want someone that can connect ideas together and not separate them into boxes. I want someone not afraid to explore problems and do so with me jointly. I want someone that can make me feel comfortable such that I can work to the utmost of my ability. I want someone to keep in touch with me and know my strengths and weaknesses. As a student I have respected these qualities in my mentors and hope to do my best in carrying these qualities myself.


The Tutor and Mentor as a Role Model

By Daniel Kroytor, Northeastern Tutor and 826 Boston Writers’ Room Tutor

First I would have to start by talking about my past experiences in tutoring and mentoring. Although they are overlapping circle in a venn diagram; they are sill different and unique in their own way. Mentoring is always a one on one experience with a single person for a long period of time. Strong relationships can be formed between a mentor and a mentee that can last a lifetime. Tutoring on the other hand can be in groups sometime different groups and sometime even different subjects so all these variable factors halt the forming of a strong bond between a tutor and tutoree.

In high school I was both a peer tutor and a peer mentor. For tutoring, I would offer my help in various math and science courses and whoever emailed me would get an appointment to get tutored. But this session was a one time thing the next session wasn’t guaranteed unless the tutoree felt weak in the subject area or started struggling with the next chapters lesson. It was a new person every month for me so there wasn’t even a connection made. On the other hand when I was a peer mentor, I was assigned a new incoming student at the beginning of the year and essentially I was their guide to this new school. A whole year of back and forth communication with various check in meetings created a strong bond. They could rely on me to always be there and help them with whatever whenever.

Both experiences though taught me about being a good leader and role model. You always have to stay positive, stay organized, and never give up. The internet is a huge place; you don’t have to know every single answer in the world. Your tutoree/mentee always looks up to similar to how a child looks up to its parent. If you’re sad they’re sad; if you’re tired and unfocused they’re tired and unfocused. Always keep the conversations on topic or nothing beneficial is really being done. Most of all never forget, they are just like you, so treat them with the respect.

The Challenges Facing a Tutor

By Jonathan Miller, Northeastern Student and 826 Boston Writers’ Room Tutor

Writing essays in high school was always a tedious experience for me, regardless of what the essay was about. I never found writing for school to be enjoyable in any way, shape, or form, and I tried to avoid it in any way I could. Going into tutoring, I expected the students at John D. O’Bryant to have a similar attitude towards writing that I did. To my pleasant surprise, most to the students, at least the ones that I’ve worked with, havebeen very enthusiastic about making sure that their essays are as well written as they can possibly be. For most of my high school experience, my goal as a writer was to get the paper done as soon as I possibly could, regardless of how well it was written. I would usually just write an essay and hand it in without even re-reading it.

The students at John D. O’Bryant, however, seem committed to making their essays as well written as they can possibly be. All of the students that I’ve worked with were willing to read their essays and showed no signs of discomfort or any kind of negative attitude towards the essay. I can’t say the same for myself, as I felt almost embarrassed reading my essay at peer review in class today.

As far as I can tell, the challenges with working with the students have been surprisingly minimal. I’d say that the greatest challenge has been working with a girl who spoke English as a second language. After learning a little bit about her, I found out that she originally lived in Ethiopia, where she spoke Amharic. Despite having difficulty pronouncing some words, her spoken English was nearly perfect. Her written English was less so.

For example, she had difficulty differentiating between the lower case “B” and “D,” writing “dook” instead of “book.” About half way through working on her essay, it became clear that she seriously needed help with writing. The way her writing sounded was completely different from the way she spoke. At one point, she admitted that she had actually written out the essay in her native Amharic and used Google Translate to translate it into English. It was easy to understand her reasoning, since I have taken Latin before and have been very tempted to do the same thing. I can say from experience that it never works out the way you want it to. Regardless, we went through the essay, rearranging the sentences so they flowed in a more cohesive and conversational matter. The goal I wrote down in class a few weeks ago was a relatively simple one: to make some kind of positive impact, regardless of how small. Of course, I’m still working towards that same goal, even if I have achieved it, because there is always something more that can be done. I hope to continue the work that I’ve been doing for the rest of the semester, hopefully continuing it throughout my college experience.

Taking on the World

By Cristina Jerney, 826 Boston Volunteer

I started volunteering with 826 Boston during the first semester of my freshman year in college , Fall 2013. I had just moved across the country, was generally terrified and stressed, and not really focussed on the community around me. But what greeted me when I walked through the doors of 826 Boston–other than a giant Bigfoot at the side of their storefront–was a group of students wanting to learn, and volunteers who were helping them do just that.

I was floored. Certainly in my experience with children, and even in my own educational background, I had never seen such a collaborative, open space that allowed students to focus on their schoolwork, improve their reading and writing skills, and truly enable them to succeed. Everything from the set up- the sturdy tables, the reading corner, the creative supplies in the back–to the daily schedule of writing, homework, and then reading, spoke to the desire of the organization to instill a love of exploration, creativity and learning.

But that was just the beginning.  And I’d like to share an anecdote or a cute story, but the truth is that the most memorable and powerful part of my time at 826 Boston is much broader and simpler than just one story. What I discovered was that I as I came back to 826 Boston each semester (this will now be my third year with the organization), my favorite part of working with the children was exactly that — when I came back each time, they were there too.  The same hard working and creative students, just a little more grown up,  a little more knowledgeable, and a little more ready to take on the world.

The Time I Found That Part of Myself That Really Wants to Be Good

By Michael Schuck, 826 Boston Volunteer

I am young. I spend most of my time not knowing what to do and the rest of my time romanticizing places and times that are inaccessible to me. The village in the 50’s and 60s. Cambridge in the time of David Foster Wallace. Dave Eggers and Co. in Frisco in the 90’s. And that last one is what brought me to 826.

I like to call myself a writer, but I’ve never been fortunate enough to belong to a community of writers. I’m fifteen years too late to be part of MIGHT magazine or the early and beautifully clumsy of McSweeney’s. But then, about a year and half ago,  I learned that 826, arguably the most important branch of this empire,  was still very young. Even more importantly, there was an outpost here, right here in weather-whipped Boston, just a train ride away.

So my fairly selfish motivation to participate in some kind of movement eventually got me to walk through the doors of the Greater Boston Bigfoot Research Institute. The staff and students took it from there.

As a writer, I am hesitant to fill the rest of this piece with cliches, but these particular cliches have turned out to be unavoidable because they are absolutely true.

I am inspired by the students every session, without fail. The staff members clearly have a great deal of experience and constantly show an impressive ability to adapt to difficult situations and maintain 826 Boston as a safe and engaging experience. Each time I leave 826, I am validated in my belief that volunteering for this organization is the most significant use of my time.

To end with a cute little metaphor, 826 is, eternally, your first ever day of school: there is excitement and passion for the immediate future as well as brief moments of uneasiness and confusion that are, most often, investigated and smoothed over. You can almost hear the growth.

I’m so happy to finally be surrounded by a community of writers, especially since these are writers who give priority to their ideas rather than to the restrictions and expectations so often associated with the professional side the of the craft.

A Tutor’s Hero
By Stephanie Su, Northeastern Student and Writers’ Room Tutor

After finishing a “shift” at O’Bryant, there was one student who had ultimately became my hero. I had walked around several times around the Writer’s Room, failing to be needed or called over—until I saw one hand in the corner shoot up. I quickly ran to her, in fear that one of the other nine tutors in the room would arrive to her first. Luckily, I overcame the obstacle. She saved me from what could potentially be a “boring shift”. She needed help on her essay that prompted her to write about one’s growth while facing adversities in their life. She was lively, and willing to ask any questions that came to her mind. You could tell she was eager to get the A, and that was the best student I could have tutored. I love when a student fully utilizes what he/she has around him/her to excel in something. My obstacle was not how to tutor a student. It was when I would get to tutor a student.

Tutor Thoughts

By Christopher O’Brien, Northeastern Student and 826 Boston Writers’ Room Tutor

Before I began tutoring in the Writers’ Room I tutored in Microeconomics. I assumed that I would be able to use the same tutoring concepts while tutoring in writing. Let me tell you, it’s extremely different.

When I first began tutoring in the Writers’ Room I struggled. I figured students would approach me when they needed help and ask me specific questions about what they needed. This was not the case at all. The tutors have to approach the students and try to figure out how to help them. This was different for me, I wasn’t used to it. I felt awkward approaching students that I didn’t think really needed my help, however, it turns out they did need my help. They just didn’t ask for it. When first approaching a student, I found asking them a bunch of questions about their pieces lets them open up about they’re writing. Even asking questions that aren’t related to they’re essays helps establish a relationship with the students. It helps them feel more comfortable, and it honestly helps me feel more comfortable too.

Every time I go to the Writers’ Room I seem to get better at tutoring. At first I felt nervous and uptight when I was heading over to the Writers’ Room. I would hope that kids wouldn’t really need help so I didn’t have to give advice that I wasn’t even sure would help. Now I find myself happy going to the Writers’ Room. I’m more confident, and find myself excited to try to make a difference in someone’s paper or day, and I get excited when students want my help. I hope I continue to improve my tutoring skills, and that I really help students with their work

Reflection on Tutoring in the Writers’ Room

By Michael Pasqua, Northeastern Student and 826 Boston Writers’ Room Tutor

The Writers’ Room was definitely one of the most enlightening and enriching experiences that I’ve had volunteering.

Just a quick background about myself: last year I finished up my six-year enlistment with the Air Force, and one of the main aspects of our annual evaluations was how much and what kind of volunteering we did throughout the year. Although I was able to be a part of a lot of great organizations, I never once came across something like the Writers Room. The main distinction was that it was a much more immersive experience—rather than just showing up to a site, moving around for an hour, and then going home. There was rarely a genuine connection to the whichever volunteering we were doing.

Naturally, with the Writers’ Room, not every day was as easy as others to work with the students, but I feel (and have heard from the other tutors) how it actually felt like we were doing something that had impact. One particular story I can recall was when a class had an assignment to relate a movie to their life and write about it. There was one male student who wasn’t very interested in movies and didn’t feel like any movies related to his life, so it was challenging to not only get material onto the screen, but to also get him invested into the assignment where he had the confidence to continue on his own. All I ended up doing was sitting down next to him and go through a few exercise such as recalling specific memories and connecting them to the plot of a movie, or going through his hobbies and finding movies that relate. Honestly, he didn’t seem to enjoy the assignment any more, but then after I moved elsewhere and looked back to check on him, he was focused and working. That left me feeling like I had a part in what I was doing, with that student, and for the Writers’ Room.

I have a few other stories that I look back on with pride, and a few others I had to learn from, but I’m particular to that one because it displayed how the Writers’ Room enables those kinds of students to form skills beyond just the paper. I personally was not excited about the Writers’ Room when I found out we had to volunteer, but that was mainly due to a lack of confidence that my skills were good enough to tutor other students. After volunteering with the Writers’ Room, I’m actually trying to arrange the next time I can come in on my free time.

A Tutors’ Reflections
By Christopher O’Brien, Northeastern Student and 826 Boston Writers’ Room Tutor
My experience in the Writer’s Room has been great. I remember coming the first day. No one showed up and I thought it was going to be miserable. However, my experience with the editorial board quickly changed that. It was nice to work with the same group of kids for a few weeks since we got the chance to get to know them, and it was nice to see them make progress. Working with the editorial board increased my confidence in tutoring and I got a lot better at tutoring from that. I wasn’t afraid to approach new kids, and I knew a few ways to get them to open up and talk about their writing.
On another note, the days we had to help out with finding resources and siting with students weren’t very exciting. I didn’t feel very helpful, and no one really needed help. They just needed the time on the computers to get it done.
One last experience I remember that left an impression on me was with a boy I was helping with his research paper (I can’t remember his name). He was being very articulate about his responses to my questions for him, and he clearly wanted his paper to be good. Then at one point he said “There is only one thing I like almost as much as basketball, and that is writing”. It was awesome to see someone who truly enjoyed writing and took pride in their work, and it was nice to work with a kid who was in it for more than just getting a grade.
A Special Place
By  Jeremy McDavid, Northeastern Student and 826 Boston Writers’ Room Tutor
Volunteering in the Writers’ Room was a great experience for me. I not only improved my personal writing skills by learning how to edit papers critically as a tutor, but I also greatly enjoyed the experience of helping High Schoolers with their writing career. Throughout my life writing has always been one of my academic weaknesses, for this reason I felt I could easily identify with many of the scientific and math based minds of students of the O’Bryant school. It was incredibly rewarding helping students overcome problems I had run into myself as I learned to write.
One of my favorite moments was helping a freshman who needed to cut her Op-Ed paper in half due to length requirements. She had worked on it for several weeks, undergoing many drafts when she asked for my help. We sat down and read through her paper sentence by sentence, first trimming paragraphs that were unneeded, then sentences, until we finally were reading through for erroneous words.
My favorite part about the process was that she didn’t expect me to make any changes for her. While I was there to help her and give her feedback on her ideas and indicate where she should focus, she chose how to improve her paper the way she wanted. By the time she finished I felt accomplished for having helped guide her to a complete paper, however I wasn’t nearly as jubilant as she was for realizing she had the potential to make the changes she needed the whole time.
Sessions like these highlight what makes the Writers’ Room a special place. Volunteering there was never about making a student paper better, it was about showing students that they already knew the changes they had to make to improve their writing. The tutor’s goal was always to empower students to write at their full potential. It gives students the creativity and support they need to excel, and allows tutors to enjoy a special experience in watching students grow.
A Tutors’ Reflection
By Sarah Brennan, Northeastern Student and 826 Boston Writers’ Room Tutor
I thought tutoring in the Writer’s Room was an amazing opportunity and I really loved having that experience outside of Northeastern. I loved how welcoming everyone was and how much I learned through the experience. Having not tutored before, I was a little nervous at first but I’m glad we did the initial workshop; teaching us how to properly tutor.
What I liked most about tutoring at O’Bryant was the experiences I gained outside of Northeastern. I loved getting to know the students and gaining those relationships. Even if I was just helping students with something as small as a thesis statement, it was nice knowing that I was of at least some help every time I was at the Writer’s Room.
As for specific tutoring techniques, I learned over time that it was most efficient to come up to students and ask them specific questions on their work, rather than just yes or no questions like “would you like any help?”  This way students were more responsive and open to help. I think another thing that helped was having that list which students signed up on to see tutors. I think that pairing us up with specific students that needed help was more beneficial than us wandering around and trying to find people who needed our help. I hope this was helpful, and again thank you so much for this wonderful opportunity! Let me know if you have any other questions.