One of the supreme joys of teaching is watching a student when a specific concept you’ve been teaching them suddenly clicks. Their eyes light up and it is clear that they have reached an understanding and can now apply this new knowledge to their work. It’s a bonus when said student can turn around and teach this concept to one of their classmates. As a writing tutor we don’t get to experience this moment often.  The very nature of our job is to offer supplemental support for a brief time. However, the other day I was able to to see this understanding reached.

Several of the students I and my fellow tutors work with at our job are foreign students who are also ESL/ELL students. This means that teaching them how to write well in English involves the explanation of some grammar rules that native English speakers take for granted. One student, we’ll call her “Tina,” was having issues with the use of articles in the English language. Her difficulty stemmed from the fact that her native language treats articles differently than English. Her issue manifested as an inability to properly place articles; sometimes she would omit them when they were necessary, and other times she would add them when they weren’t.

Now, it bears mentioning that I was not working directly with Tina when this moment occurred, but we tutors feel that the writing center is a communal place where we all work together to help students. To that end, Andy, who was working with Tina, asked me to help him explain how to double check proper article use so that Tina could do it on her own. Even though I’ve never thought of myself as a grammar maestro, I jumped at the chance to explain this because it’s an important part of grammar.

To explain to rule to her, I wrote two sentences on the chalkboard and showed her how the articles were used in each one. The visual helped her grasp the concept. As I explained, I watched her go from a slightly confused look to one of comprehension. As she looked at my examples on the chalkboard, she took notes and began to apply the rule to her essay. I felt a swell of pride to watch her put her new understanding directly to use on her work. It let me know that she actually learned something new and had incorporated it into her base of knowledge.

I’ve spoken before about why I like my job. This is just one of those reasons. Working with the same students over the course of a school year will allow me and my fellow tutors to witness those moments when a students “gets it.” We’ll be able to see our skill in teaching and writing manifest in these teachable moments. I look forward to the next one.