Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes: Handling the Transition from Writing Center Writing Associate to Course Writing Associate

Gracie Freeman-Lifschutz ’17 offers guidance in moving from Writing Associate work in the Writing Center to work in a course.


When you do something one way for long enough, it becomes routine. As a Writing Associate (WA) who works in the Writing Center (WC), you show up for your shift, wait for students to come, work with them in individual sessions, log their visit and repeat. Like washing your hair, you can fall into the routine lather, rinse and repeat of being a WA.

But wait! You’ve decided to change things up, and now you’re working as a Course Writing Associate (CWA). What happens to your routine?

This transition is one that I’m deeply familiar with. I spent my first semester with the Writing Associates Program as a WA working in the WC three nights a week, and then made the jump to working as a CWA.

In the WC I worked with students who had a variety of skillsets and who brought in writing assignments from across the disciplines. It was fun—I met tons of new people, and there wasn’t much time for the job to become monotonous since it was always something different. I’ll admit, it was easy to get comfortable with the routine. There wasn’t much I needed to do outside of being present and timely for my shifts, and being ready to help. I found that for most WAs, if you’re engaged while you’re on the job and actively listen to student concerns, you’re set.

After a semester getting used to the pace of work in the WC, the switch to working as a CWA felt like a whole new ball game. I was expected to attend most class sessions each week, hold office hours, and advise students on their work outside of those hours. It felt like a lot of work at first, a daunting change from my nice, little chunk of WA time in the WC. It sometimes felt overwhelming, and even created feelings of guilt if I couldn’t seem to give 110% to the class I worked with.

I am here to tell you that it won’t be as scary as my experience may have made it seem. It is not the Goliath to your David, or a monster that you must slay. It’s more like switching up your shampoo and conditioner; you’re still rinsing and repeating, but the lather is a little different. That’s okay!

Here are some things you can expect when you make the transition:

1. You have added a class to a potentially already full course load.

I know, classes are rough, especially when there are so many other things to participate in. You may be on a team, in a band, or in a bunch of clubs, and this requirement will feel like just another thing taking up space in your schedule. That’s okay; allow yourself to feel this at first because you’ll feel better in the long run. Think about this class as a nice break from the pressures of your other classes: you don’t need to be worried about your grade in it, and you’re there as a support for students. Think about it as any other class that would learn from, but one where you can sit and absorb the information without the usual course pressures.

2. Office hours a.k.a. what do you mean I set my own hours for this job?

Office hours! They can be both stressful and freeing. You pick where you’re going to have them, when, and how you’ll set them up. Will they be completely open as walk-ins, or will you have people sign up in advance? If they do, will you have them sign up online or on paper in class? These decisions are all yours now; you aren’t part of the drop-in set-up of the Writing Center where people come to you.

3. You may have to read and review your students’ drafts, and yes, this is separate from office hours.

I know, I know, it feels like more homework. Homework for a class you’re not even taking for a grade. On the flip side, how else will you be able to give your students useful guidance or make your services accessible? Unless you choose to hold office hours twice a week, for two hours each time, you probably won’t get to help every student in the class. This is especially true if your class is bigger than 12-15 students. If you want to give your students more than 15-20 minutes apiece, you’re going to need to meet them halfway and look over their work on your own time. If it feels like homework, you’re doing it right. That’s because it’ll be a part of your to-do list and, chances are, you’ll get it done.

4. You’re probably going to read many, many papers in response to the same prompt.

Sure, the prompt will be the same, but does every person in the class have the same personal history? Have they all come from the same place? Are they all the same gender, sexual orientation, or religion? The answer to these questions is almost definitely not. Every student has a different perspective, so their papers will all be different. Plus—this way you’ll know if a student’s work doesn’t answer the prompt, whereas you couldn’t always tell in the WC because you didn’t know the class or professor.

These are just some of the things you may be frustrated with or worried about at first. However, each has a silver lining and offers its own rewards. Here are a few tips to help you overcome potential challenges presented by the above scenarios:

1. When you go to class, take notes.
No, you don’t need to participate in discussion like you would if you were registered for the class. That being said, taking notes will keep your mind engaged, and you’ll have something specific to look at if a student comes to you for help and there’s something they missed. Furthermore, if it’s a class you haven’t taken, you’ll probably learn something new!

2. Whenever possible, schedule your office hours to work best with your schedule.
While I know you have your students best interests in mind, you also need to consider your own schedule. Just because you’re their WA now, it doesn’t mean they have carte blanche access to your time. Don’t forget to take care of yourself. You’ll also want to be flexible. Be accessible by email, and be ready to change your office hour format or times depending on how well attended they are. If no one comes to open hours, maybe switch to appointment only. If you’re finding that your hours are consistently empty, consider holding them only around big deadlines.

3. Decide how many student papers you will work on per day to reach a deadline.
There’s a risk that you’ll feel overwhelmed by adding this workload onto your other work. Don’t try to read them all in one sitting; you will get tired and frustrated. If you set a deadline for yourself and segment out the work to make it manageable, it will go faster and you’ll feel more organized. Listen to yourself, and let yourself do what’s best for you.

At the end of the day, it’s still the same job working as a CWA as it is working as a Writing Center WA. You’re still meeting new students, helping them develop their work and reflect on their writing, and learning new things about yourself and your own writing through these interactions. You still will be working at set times, maybe just more often (and you’ll be more accessible outside of those times). Like I said earlier—it’s the same rinse and repeat, just a different formula. As long as you acknowledge the differences CWA work from a WA, you won’t end up frustrated by trying to use methods that worked in the WC.

This transition was difficult to adjust to at first, but I found there are many things I enjoy about my work as a CWA. There are three big ones that come to mind. There may be more that you find along the way, but these are the three that stick out to me:

1. You get to personalize your work schedule.

You get to decide most things in position, from the class you work with to your office hours and where they are. If something comes up and you can’t hold your usual office hours, you can reschedule them. There’s no need to look for someone to cover your shift or make up your hours, because you’ve simply moved them! You also get to determine how long your hours will be, so you can make sure you’re not in the library working until midnight.

2. You get to know the students you work with and see their progress as it happens.

In this setting, you don’t just meet a student once and never see them again. You are given the opportunity to bond with the students in the class and develop a working relationship with them over the course of the semester. It’s different and new, but you have the chance to understand what each student really needs from you rather than trying to be as helpful as possible in one meeting.

3. You get to develop a relationship with the professor you’re working with.

Yeah, I know everyone always talks about networking and building work relationships, but they’re right. In this situation, you get to collaborate with a professor and work with them as a peer. Yes, you’re still a student and act as a supplement to what the professor does in class, but you’re able to contribute and offer your own suggestions. You’re there as an intermediary between the professor and the students, which allows you to foster a relationship with them. If it goes well, they will be another professor you can go to if you ever need a letter of recommendation or a reference!

As you can see, it may not be the easiest leap to make from the WC to being a CWA. However, I can guarantee that it will be worth it. In the end, experiencing both work environments will make you a better WA, and in turn, a better resource for students.

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