The Big Moment: Opening the Tutoring Session
Perhaps the most frightening moment of any tutoring session is the opening moment. We aren't referring here to the way you greet the tutee - though of course you need to greet him in a way that is frank, focused, and welcoming. Rather, the opening moment that we're referring to is that moment when you have read the paper and are scrambling to come up with what you might say.
Remember: the tutee is probably very nervous as she watches you read her essay. If this makes you nervous, give her something to do. Some tutors ask tutees to write while they read: make a list of questions, create a short outline (ostensibly because it might be useful in the tutoring session), and so on. This strategy has two advantages: one, it keeps the tutee from fixing you in her stare and so allows you to be a more focused (and more relaxed) reader; and two, it focuses the tutee's thoughts back to her paper - which she may have stopped thinking about when she shut down her computer last night. Another way of focusing the writer - and yourself - on the paper at hand is to ask the writer why she came. Are there things you should be thinking about/looking for as you read the paper?
As you proceed through the paper, remember to read in the ways we've trained you to: as a common reader, in order to know the writer, and in preparation for a response. Also keep your eye on the clock: if the paper is unnecessarily long, or unusually difficult to read, you might want to read only part way through, so that you have enough time to address the paper's problems. Some tutors like to take notes as they read; others do not. Whatever notes you make, keep them brief. It's fine to make notes to yourself so that you won't forget to make an important point in the tutoring session. But if you start to scribble frantically on a paper, you're bound to feel the writer's anxiety begin to rise.
Finally comes the moment of truth: you have to turn to the writer and begin. What's the first thing you should say? Always praise something about the paper. Most papers that you see at the Center will have something praiseworthy about them - some particular point that is interesting, an inviting style, etc. If the paper is particularly weak, you might at least acknowledge that the assignment seems very interesting, or that the writer seems to have worked very hard on the essay. You might also return to those concerns that the writer raised before you read the paper. She wanted to know if her thesis was OK? Well, then, that's a good place to begin.