An Individualized Approach

Ryan Yates ’17 reflects on his passion for education in the context of the Writing Associates Program at Oberlin.


My passion for education has stemmed from my enjoyment in teaching, tutoring, consulting and collaborating. I love to answer questions as much as I love to ask them. I take no less interest in discussing things I love with friends than in standing in front of a group speaking at length about a subject in a realm of my relative expertise and enjoyment. I prize learning on all parts, and the structure of my own education has emphasized that at all levels.

Ever since I was five and people started asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I told them I wanted to be a teacher. When I moved to middle school my teachers established a learning environment dependent on conversation. Students asked and answered each other’s questions; the teachers seemed more than happy to stray from the lesson plan to incorporate content that was interesting for the students. I loved the level of respect I saw for student input and perspective, and how it felt like the teachers were working with us and not just standing in front of us. Those situations only further encouraged me to become a teacher to replicate that personable experience.

In high school I began to emulate my former educators when I helped my friends after school with their algebra and essays as a peer tutor. After school in the library, we murmured over graphs and grammar, entertaining ourselves with metaphors and mnemonics. At Oberlin, seminar and discussion-based classes are everywhere, so as soon as the Education Studies Concentration was created, I rushed to complete it. I spread my studies across diverse academic disciplines to prepare myself with both a theoretical background and practical experience. I’m currently in the process of applying for graduate programs in education.

The Oberlin College Writing Associates Program has played a major role in this journey for me because the main reason I want to be a teacher is my love of seeing other people get excited about writing. As a Writing Associate, I get to see so many people from various disciplines share the things they care about in written form. My role isn’t to impart information, but to encourage, energize, and work with others to make sure their communication is as effective as it can be. It embodies everything I love about education: agency on the part of the writer, engagement, and mutual learning.

In the last stretches of my Fall 2016 semester at Oberlin, amidst the stress of finals and graduation requirements, I was beginning to lose track of the reasons for why I was pursuing education. My focus was on a day-to-day can I get my next assignment in push. As if to add to the stress, one night I got an email from a student who had seen me in the Writing Center earlier in the semester. They needed help with a presentation in a rhetoric class: “I really need you to help me right now, when can I see you and fix the presentation passage? I will give the speech tomorrow…”

The Writing Center was still open at that point, but the wait during finals is long and not everyone gets a chance to see a Writing Associate. Moreover, I wasn’t working that night; I had been about to head to sleep. The thought crossed my mind that it wasn’t my responsibility to help here, but something still nagged at me. After a few minutes of mental back-and-forth, I replied: “Can we meet somewhere at 11:00 P.M.? What place is least stressful for you?”

When I arrived, the student was seemed excited to dive in and begin editing. After reviewing the presentation assignment, we skimmed over the structure to see if it would be more persuasive in a different order. While we enjoyed talking about the content, it quickly became apparent that some of the sentence level issues needed to be addressed, though neither of us had the stamina to thoroughly tackle this aspect of the presentation. We settled on a sort of back and forth: we spent five minutes talking about structure and then three quickly editing sentence level concerns. Without too much effort, we worked our way through the presentation restructuring certain segments and solidifying word choice in others. After an hour or so, when the student seemed happy with how the presentation had progressed, we decided to call it a night.

What strikes me most about this experience is how much better I felt walking out of the session as I had felt walking in. A huge weight of stress had been lifted off my shoulders for I felt I had been more productive in the last hour than in the last week, even though I hadn’t technically produced anything. The one-on-one environment and collaborative structure facilitated an encounter in which the writer was the source of all the final content, and yet my input served to structure that production in a polished way. They walked away as happy as I was. This moment reminded me of the one thing I love most about tutoring, consulting, and collaboration that I want to bring to future education environments: inspiring active and caring engagement in the learning environments.

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