A Philosophy of Ethos

For my last assignment in what may possibly be my last stint at grad school before I drop out, I was asked to write a tutoring philosophy. Leaving college means no longer tutoring or teaching in academia. However, these words will ring true with me until I see, think, and feel otherwise. Every part of my being, in this moment, backs what I say here. I feel that it’s very important to be completely biased right now.

My Tutoring Philosophy

Statement of Purpose:

            Of all the composition and writing center theory we have read this quarter, I am most influenced by Harry Denny. His thoughts and words are embedded with my own now. Denny sets up the primary and recursive frame in which I think through all that is dear to me in my contribution to this field:

At its core, face is about identity and raises questions about who we are, and how we come to know and present identity, as a phenomenon that’s unified, coherent, and captured in a singular essence, or as something more multi-faceted and dynamic. While on one level, I want us to think about face vis-á-vis writing centers; I also want us to be aware of margins and center; to think of the ways of privileging, to explore the dynamics of ordinary caste. Put simply, as much as I hope for us to grapple with the identities that circulate through writing centers and tutoring, I also want us to think about the transparency of identity, where bodies and affects seem to exist and perform beyond or post identity, where they seem the “same” or “other.” (2-3)

The frame I shall use is identity. These two sections will be my tutoring ethos. I am hoping to establish my identity as a writer, a tutor, and a student. My ethos reflects the way I see myself in relation to others in an attempt to get at our heterogeneous homogeneity. There is a reason rhetoric and composition are paired together, and a reason the fluidity is interdependent. With a little cognitive eye-work, I hope you see how I put them both together to see the light of my day.


            My history with tutoring, when looking back through it, has been an experience with serendipity. I connect it to my lifetime relationship with language and writing. I have been writing since a very young age. My mother recalled my coming home from my first day of kindergarten where I stood in front of her, deadpan, and recited the alphabet backwards. I have always loved letters, words, and the use of both. I began writing poetry at five, plays about my brother and baseball at six. For a class project in sixth grade, I wrote a half-hour long play on Greek mythology that the whole class performed. I remember looking up at the stars at age nine, telling myself that I would be a writer my whole life.

Somewhere along time, I forgot that statement.

I fought with myself over being an English major in my first years of college. Failing English 101 three times before finally passing it stuck. I had asked my last 101 professor why I was failing; the answer was simple: “You don’t know grammar.” So I sat down with Hacker and I taught myself grammar. By the time I reached English 104, Critical Thinking, along with the Honors supplement, my entrance into the field was complete. The English department at my community college asked me to tutor in their writing center. I took the class. Then I walked away.

I was pregnant with my son. I needed to pay my bills and support him. Transitioning into a full-time position in the medical field seemed the better economic choice. I spent four years at a desk reading novels during breaks and writing poetry on night shifts under the dark, green lights of the emergency room. Nurses hired me to tutor their children because I seemed to articulate myself so well. One day I looked up our university’s English department website; I stumbled upon the classes. My promise to myself, recalled.

There is an essay about my decision to leave the security of the medical field. It is a devolution of my disdain for the false sense of reliance on hegemony, patriarchy, and capitalism. Going back to who I am was no easy decision—it still isn’t. But it is the right one.

I have written here several times in my Blackboard posts of my experience working in the writing center. The last few years there has given me so much solace in way of my purpose in life. Tutoring and writing are interchangeable and relational. They are at the heart of how I think about the world. I have failed many times in my sessions and conferences. I have given bad advice. I have helped too much. I have helped not enough. Yet, I have always learned with them what it is we are doing. Last year, when I began giving workshops on writing, it all hit me. I just want to work with students.

Theory and Praxis:

I carry with me an invaluable source of enthusiasm when I begin my day. The large portion of this enthusiasm comes directly from my desire to work with students. My mentor once told me this—that my main contribution to my field is that I genuinely care who my students are, and want to show them ways to continue to define their identities. Having never fully realized this myself, I saw much truth in her statement. This, she believes, is how I have been able to fashion a clear middle ground between the very real problematic of theory and praxis. The ground is caring.

What does it mean to care for students, care who they are? In the classroom, this means looking forward to moments where I learn who they are. I initiate this journey by taking them up in conversation about their lives. These seemingly banal conversations tell me that students are people with knowledge and life experiences that make up their identities. Both of those are crucial in every classroom. In the writing center, this means that I engage my fellow students in similar discussions. I seek to get to know them. This means looking at the person sitting beside me (I always employ a relational position to my fellow students in a conference, so as to ensure there is no physical space between us.). It also means looking at the person they construct in their work.

Rhetoric teaches me that we are very much in the words we create. As I approach every text a student writes, I look very closely at the lexical and syntactical formation of their identities. I attend to their use of point-of-view, which tells me how they envision themselves in their voice, and whether they are aware of the limitations granted or non-required in their professor’s prompts (to academic-first-person, or not?). We discuss their interpretation of their assignment and their texts. I ask them what they want from the work they are doing. Because I believe identity is both at the forefront and the center of every text we compose, I ask questions that look at that. What does that mean?

Identity politics is a very serious and political endeavor in the academic institution. Every student at a university is forced to question who they are in everything they read and write for every class. Here is where I throw in my own politics because I am an identity, and this philosophy is mine. I’m going to own it. My philosophy solely focuses on solidarity. I am a tutor, but I am also a student. I am a teacher, but I am still a student. It does not matter what role I occupy; I am always learning from the interactions I have with people. Looking beyond labels, roles, and hierarchies lets me see what happens when we enter into discourse with each other: meaning-making. Our languages give us ways to communicate. Our views of each other denote the words we use. With rhetorical awareness of what it means to do both—what doing both makes—we participate in moving discourse in very powerful, meaningful ways. This is my belief at this time. Every conference, session, lecture, discussion, or mode of praxis is a moment to share discussion on who we are in the work that we do. Because, at the end of each day, we are all humans struggling to figure out our identities in this world. It will take considerable ethics and awareness to use language that resists imposition and linguistic violence; and, instead, opens spaces for new articulations of identity that places agency and human rights front and center. The center is a perfect space to do this work.


2 thoughts on “A Philosophy of Ethos

  1. The center is a perfect place to do this work. I love your use of words and your courage. You always inspire. What would a writing center look like ‘outside’ of academia? Is there an equivalent? – freshflyer

    • Thank you so much for commenting. I appreciate conversation with you always. There is an equivalent actually. It is the practice I engage in with people in my life. We no longer need or require physical spaces to discuss what writing means for our identities. Just tonight, for instance, a friend and I negotiated over a practice of composing a text concerning some multi-disciplinary work. All it takes is sharing speech :)

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