Interview With Sherazi on the Writing Center and Beyond
Updated: Sep 19, 2022
By Konstantina Spyropoulou
I have known Sherazi since her first semester at AUS when, as a freshman Mathematics major then, she came to the Writing Center for the first time. I remember we had a long talk about majors and university life in general, and the possibility of changing her major to English Language and Literature at some point and even joining the Writing Center. Needless to say, I was ecstatic when she did both, and we could spend time together in class and in between sessions. Now that she graduated as an English major and as a tutor, I asked her for a WhatsApp interview over voice notes on her experience at the Writing Center and she sent me her always on point, always concise, replies. “Have fun transcribing!” she said. She knows I hate transcribing because unlike herself, I am not a born linguist and will never be one. Still, I did have fun transcribing her answers for this interview, and I hope when she reads it she thinks I did a fair enough job.
“I’ve worked four semesters in total,” she responds to my question of how many years she has worked at the Writing Center, “which would be two years. It has a little gap in the middle, but it’s dispersed four semesters overall, so, two years.” Being a Math major, even for a little while, has its perks. I now want to know why she decided to take up the course and become a tutor. She checks her email and gets back to me: “It seems that when I was in my writing class my professor recommended me and [then] Dr. Lynn Ronesi emailed me, talking to me about what it was about. I thought it was the first work opportunity on campus that I was presented with and I do enjoy writing studies and rhetoric studies [...] and education and tutoring. I did a bit of tutoring here and there when I was in school, obviously not as formally. So, I thought it might be a nice idea. Also, at the time Writing 221 counted towards the English degree. And the 221 class seemed interesting and different.” These are all good reasons to be involved with the Writing Center apart from the obvious one, she is a phenomenal writer.
Now that she has graduated, I ask her to reflect on her experience as a tutor over the years. “My experience at the Writing Center has been incredible. It was definitely one of the best decisions I've made in my life,” she says, and I cannot help but feel a little proud. “Some of the things that made it incredible are the kind of community that's created in the Writing Center between other writing tutors and Professor Maria of course, as well as students who use the Writing Center frequently. It is extremely rewarding work. It's a job that feels like I'm actually doing something important. I think it's really meaningful and –not to be dramatic– but [...] I’m honored to be a part of a student's writing journey. You are really helping students with skills that they will need to succeed in their university careers. But, you know, a lot of those things also translate into just real-life situations like general critical thinking or critical reading or developing arguments. So my experience has been great. In the beginning, it was a little bit nerve-wracking because I skipped Writing 101 and I went directly into 102, and then I did Writing 221 in my second semester. So I started tutoring much younger and much earlier than usual. So there was a little bit of a learning curve in the beginning, there was a little bit of anxiety in the beginning, but then I started getting the hang of it and it just became like second nature and it has been so rewarding, so incredible.” The passion in her voice is contagious.
I know that as a person she is passionate about learning new things, developing her skills, and as a linguist she is interested in reaching tangible outcomes so I’m excited to hear what she has to say about the practical value of tutoring in her life: “The Writing Center has taught me a lot of things that I use in my day-to-day life. One that primarily sticks out to me is learning to be a peer tutor–what it means to be with someone as a peer in [not only] talking to them but working with them: so working with people and being in the same space as them and working collaboratively to reach the same end goal, as well as [recognizing] the importance of success and progress at any level. Because even if I might be at a more advanced position or stage in writing, being able to work with people who are maybe struggling a little bit made me appreciate other people's struggles, and also recognize how important all of those little steps are in getting to a high level.” Indeed, the Writing Center is a big school for all of us.
I now ask her about any memory at the Writing Center she is especially fond of: “My best memory happened [...] in my last semester at university. I had a student come in and I greeted her and we sat down, I looked at her and I said ‘I've tutored you before,’ and she said ‘Yeah’. [...] I tutored her when she was in her freshman year, and now it had been three years later, and she still remembered me and she still chose me to be her tutor. So I tutored her when I was in my freshman year once, and then I didn't see her. And then she came back to me in my senior year in my last semester, and I tutored her again. And it was just so amazing, [...] that one session I had with her when I was a freshman, must have had some impact on her to the extent that she would remember me. She probably thought that I was very helpful. And then when I started reading her paper, I kind of remembered, because she had some very specific struggles as I was reading and I could see that her writing had improved. So it was nice to kind of see the result of some of the work that we do at the Writing Center over years. And also to realize what a lasting impression you can have on students even from just one session.” Of course, she mentions the tangible outcomes. And of course, such sessions are the most memorable and rewarding ones a tutor can ever have.
I know she has a lot more to say, so I ask her to provide a tip for future tutors who would like to join or would be soon joining the Writing Center. “I think the biggest piece of advice I would give is to put yourself in the tutees' shoes”, she says. “Sometimes I think it can be difficult to be patient with someone who is struggling with something that might come easily to you, but when you can empathize with them you're able to help them from a better place, be more patient, and I would say even more in touch with what they might need.” She continues: “One way I practice empathy is by relating their struggles to other struggles I've had with things that are difficult for me. Sometimes they are very similar things, like my experience with Arabic as a second language. Letting tutees know you also struggle with things also really helps build rapport, makes them comfortable, and emphasizes that you are a peer and just like them.” Being empathetic and genuine with your tutees is undoubtedly a great step towards building a connection with them and having successful sessions.
“So what does the future hold for Sherazi?”, I ask at the end. “My hopes for the future are to get a Ph.D. in Linguistics and work as a professor and researcher in the field,” she responds and I am not surprised. I know she will be an excellent professor and researcher. “I'm not particularly sure in what specialization. It might even be something in rhetoric work, like I might be a rhetorician. I'm keeping it a little bit open, but yes, I would like to get a doctorate and do research in linguistics, but I also enjoy rhetoric work so I suppose we shall see.” A lot of great opportunities are soon to come her way, of this I am sure. For the time being, I can console myself with the thought that I do not have to say farewell and goodbye as of yet, as I will still be seeing her in one of our MATESOL classes and around campus. But when the time to say goodbye does come, well... we too, shall see.