People Watching

Avivah Mitchel (’23) reflects on the power of people-watching to elicit empathy and connect with those we tutor. “Discomfort can appear differently in each person, but it is so often recognizable. Happiness, people can’t seem to hide it when it radiates off of them.”

I love to people-watch.

I love to observe people doing people things and wonder about their lives 

It has always been bizarre to me that each person I meet – and the billions of people that I’ll never meet – have just as many, if not more, thoughts, aspirations, likes and dislikes, talents and struggles, and emotions as myself. Not in the way that I don’t believe it, but in the way that it’s fascinating and difficult to wrap my head around, but it puts things into perspective and helps to get out of your own head. 

I find solace in people-watching.

I sit in a seat surrounded by windows in the coffee shop on the corner, observing all who walk past. I came here to work on my college essays, some of which are due in less than two weeks and I haven’t begun writing them. But like I often am, I am distracted by the individuals around me.

All I can do is people-watch. 

The woman on the corner in a bright yellow vest on top of a winter coat is holding a clipboard, with worry in her eyes. I imagine she is registering people to vote as the primaries are next month, only a few more days for people to register to vote and be eligible to vote in the next election. She lifts her chin and eagerly asks people questions – most of whom ignore her, or avoid eye contact and shake their heads. I can’t quite see what she is asking them, but she appears to be feeling defeated. A boy in a red crew neck nervously checks his phone 3 times as he crosses the street, he could be anxiously awaiting a message from someone, or maybe some sort of test result. His nervous demeanor transports him to the other side of the street –  where he once again, checks his phone. A boy in a Michigan baseball cap carries himself with certainty and confidence, his shoulders back, chest puffed out, backpack open and his jacket unzipped. He smiles to himself as he walks with a bounce in his step. I wonder if he had just heard good news or is on his way to a date, or perhaps he is just feeling good today. A couple peacefully hold hands as they slowly make their way down the block. Content smiles fill their faces as they turn to look at each other, the smile that doesn’t leave when they turn away. To me, they seem to be a new couple. Maybe they started dating a month ago. They look happy and full of warmth amongst the cold of the fall day.

These are just judgments and assumptions, I’ll never know the reality of the strangers on the other side of these windows, or even the ones 3 feet away from me at another table. But I won’t stop wondering. You may approach interactions differently based on what you observe about people. 

It’s quite easy to make negative judgments about people. It’s in our nature. Negative judgments are based on people’s appearance or clothing, assuming their situation. However, positive people-watching is about positive judgments and curious inquiries. To wonder about people’s lives, and approach those thoughts with good intentions, and empathy. 

I notice that most people who walk alone have headphones in, whether they are listening to music, a podcast, on a phone call, or just have them in to avoid interaction. Some people walk alone. Others with a friend, or partner. Some people walk in groups. Some people get pushed off the sidewalk in their group or have to walk alone slightly behind. Some people walk with emphasis on their heels, or toes. Some with long, slow strides, others with quick short steps, or somewhere in between. Some people look at their feet as they walk. Others pay clear attention to their surroundings. Some people are highly conscious of the way they walk, maybe that’s because of a past experience that stuck with them. Some people walk with pride radiating off of them, almost as if they are dancing. Others take timid steps. Some people roll themselves down the road in an electric wheelchair. While some get pushed by someone else. Some people drag their feet when they walk. Or keep their toes turned in. Others walk with their feet turned out and barely bend their knees. 

These people that I watch, are on their way to something or from somewhere. Each person picked out their outfit. Some may have retrieved their clothes from their floor, the same outfit from yesterday, and maybe even the day before. Or maybe they took time curating their outfit to represent and express themselves. One girl appears to be wearing handmade or vintage jeans with different colored patches. Another wearing a golden goose coat. I marvel at the variety. Someone else wears a t-shirt, they don’t seem to be shivering, though it’s the coldest day of the year so far. 

I am curious about each person’s story, family, opinions, and interests. I wonder if they participate in class, or have a favorite teacher or professor. I wonder if we’ve ever crossed paths before or if we will ever again. I won’t remember either way. Through the window, I can’t tell who is an exchange student from another country, who is from Michigan, or out of state. 

At school, I people-watch every day, in the hallways, out the windows of my classes, and even within my classes. But it’s different at school. The faces and backpacks are familiar. I see the same bunch of students on my walk from class to class each day, but I could name maybe 15 of them, the ones I walk with and a few others. I watch people’s body language. One day the person whose outfits I always admire walks alone today, with their head down. I wonder if something had happened.

Each friend I make, or classmate I get to know, has a story. They have joyful memories and heartbreaking trauma – of course some more than others – they have music they like, concerns, passions, and the things that build their identity; the ways in which I perceive them, what they chose to share, what they don’t, how they perceive themselves. Each person is full of value. I learn so much from people’s body language. Some body language is universal. Discomfort can appear differently in each person, but it is so often recognizable. Happiness, people can’t seem to hide it when it radiates off of them. 

In the Writing Center, people-watching and body language reading are some of the most important parts of being a writing tutor. A quiet student comes in, clearly, they had to find the courage to step in and sit down next to you: don’t bombard them with information about yourself and an intense amount of energy. A student takes a seat next to you and inches their chair away from the edge of the table, they need some space, don’t comment on it, just give them a little bit of space. A student comes into the writing center, introduces themselves immediately, smiles at you before you ask, and sits down with excitement and passion written all over their face, returning that energy. Every single interaction that you have with people in the Writing Center, and beyond, can be enhanced by the way your ability to be aware of and receptive to people’s body language. 

You should people-watch more often. You don’t have to be able to read body language. Just sit. And watch people being people. 

What is a Tutor?

Matayia Newbern (’22) writes, “We’re a bunch of kids who like to write, and whether or not we’re good at it is completely subjective…Tutors are just (extra)ordinary people.”

By: Matayia Newbern (’22)
First-Year Tutor

The Writing Center is a place for young minds to grow, experiment, and expand knowledge and creativity, all while helping other people find their own. We have so many identities and characteristics within one room, so many traits and differences. This includes different thought processes, opinions, and even criticisms. You can see it on the walls through our nametags, in the way we dress as tutors, or simply just the way we speak and interact with each other. We know what makes us up as people, as students, as feelers and adults to be, but what goes into being a tutor?

I recall a time where a fellow Writing Center student told a small personal story of his when talking about the approach to tutoring others. The teacher of the class under supervision referred to the tutors as ¨trained professionals¨ when in reality, that’s not the case at all. We’re a bunch of kids who like to write, and whether or not we’re good at it is completely subjective. Some people look to tutors for guidance and help, others look to tutors as just another set of eyes or a reassurance button. It’s great that tutors are so versatile in their abilities to help others and do it well, but are also participants in the love of reading and writing. Long story short, tutors are people.

Tutors are just (extra)ordinary people.

Certain people happen to think that it can take away from the ¨legitimacy¨ of what we come together to do.  Every organization you can think of will consist of different kinds of people. We may not have a bachelor’s degree in English, nor be best friends with the literary president of Yale, but that makes it all the better. That leads us to the questions: What is a tutor? What is a good writer? How do we measure that?

Tutors share so many differences, however when it comes down to it, we can find ourselves to be strikingly similar in what we value in each other. Being a tutor isn’t about our rankings on the SAT, our academic strong suits or even our grades and GPA. Being a tutor comes down to our values, what we believe in and how we go about these things when incorporating it into spreading our love of literature. We can collectively agree that the desire to help others is a characteristic required to be a mentor to others; we must intertwine our personal interests and attributes into what it means to us to be a guide or a mentor. Funds of knowledge, shared vulnerability, community and growth mindset are four pillars that are not only discussed within the classroom, but practiced within it as well. But what do those pillars mean? Just like anything else, what those things mean to us are completely different, and that’s the cool part.

All in all, we come together as a family and a community simply serving those we become so close to. Not hunting for those who would fill the position well, we simply have them already. All of us have the power to create them. We don’t look for things in a decent tutor, we look for someone who would make a good one.

Tutoring Without A Rubric: Creative Writing in the Writing Center

Many tutors feel that helping writers with creative work is too personal, but it is possible with focused training and a different mindset.

By: Savanna Cowley (’20)
First-Year Tutor


If you were to approach any tutor within the Skyline Writing Center, they would probably tell you that they consider themselves a creative writer. Whether it be fiction, poetry, songs, or any other writing that isn’t turned in for a grade, more often than not, those people who live to help others with reading and writing pursue it outside of an academic setting.

While this may be true, many tutors are uncomfortable when a student comes into the Writing Center with a creative piece, or feel that pieces of this nature are not supposed to be tutored. According to a study done by the University of South Florida, 16 of the 61 people surveyed claimed that there is no training that could be done to prepare a tutor for assisting with creative pieces, two of them saying that it was impossible to tutor these writers. Many tutors feel that helping writers with creative work is an invasion of privacy, claiming that it is writing that is too personal and an outside glance would be damaging to the author and the piece itself.

It is important to understand that all writing is creative, and is, therefore, possible to tutor. The key to this form of tutoring is a shift in the framing of the piece; tutoring without a rubric can seem daunting, but only requires the tutor to take part in creative thinking as well.

Here are some simple ways to assist creative writers with their work:

  • Always ask the writer what they feel could be improved within their own work. While it is true that they are looking for feedback from an outside eye, it is also important to let them keep ownership over this extremely personal piece. It feels different from tutoring an academic paper because it is; there aren’t guidelines to follow, so finding issues and tweaking them isn’t as simple as we may believe. Asking the writer what they feel are major issues allows them to have complete control over their story and language.
  • More often than not, they are struggling to find the emotion that they feel the audience should be experiencing when reading their work. Ask them what they intend for the reader to feel or think.
  • From there, offer insight into what you feel as you read the piece: are you able to easily follow the plot? What do you believe their intent is, observing their diction and syntax? In other words, treat it like a story you’re reading in English class and analyze it (as a creative writer myself, other people analyzing my work makes me feel all the more established as a writer, so it would give them a major confidence boost).
  • Try not to worry about small issues, like grammar and sentence structure, until the bigger comprehension issues are addressed.

The purpose of creative writing is self-expression, not to seek perfection in the eyes of a teacher or superior. Keeping this in mind truly opens a gateway to fluid imagination and conversation, not only for the writer but for the tutor as well.

Works Cited

Cassorla, Leah F. “Tutor Attitudes toward Tutoring Creative Writers in Writing Centers.” University of South Florida Scholar Commons, Scholar Commons, 2004.

Purdue Online Writing Lab. “Tutoring Beginning Poets // Purdue Writing Lab.” Purdue Writing Lab, Purdue University, 1995-2018.

Writer’s Block: How Can We Fix It?

Writing can often be difficult, but when you finally find your rhythm again, it’s one of the greatest feelings.

By: Denver Williams (’20)
First-Year Tutor

images (1)

Writer’s block (/riderz blak/) noun: The condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.

We’ve all experienced it at one point in time. Whether you’re trying to complete an analysis essay on a book you’ve read in english class, a college essay, or a piece that you’re simply writing for fun. It happens to the best of us, and It’s frustrating. Not being able to think of the diction you would like to use, the way you would like your piece to be structured, or even a basic topic to write about can cause us to feel discouraged. I know I’ve been there before.

As tutors, I believe it’s necessary for us to discover different ways to cure writer’s block if we ever stumble upon it in the future.

The first step is to identify the reason for your for writer’s block. A common reason for most students is perfectionism. In high school, many students strive for the perfect score on an assignment. They believe that if they receive any score lower than the perfect score, then they have failed. Perfectionism may cause a student to try to create the perfect paragraph, or the perfect essay. But unfortunately, attempting to do so will lead to the student not being able to come up with single word, thus causing writer’s block.

Another common reason for writer’s block, is self-criticism. It’s our worst enemy. We compare our writing or public speaking skills to someone else’s and we draw the conclusion that they’re better than us. We hold these unrealistic expectations for ourselves, and this causes us to feel a high amount of pressure, which is never a good thing, especially when you’re trying to write. Psychologist Steven Pritzker PhD says that “what’s known as writer’s block is an “artificial construct that basically justifies a discipline problem. A commitment to a regular work schedule will help you overcome barriers like perfectionism, procrastination and unrealistic expectations.

Once you’ve identified your cause, you can now begin to search for ways to put an end to your writer’s block. A method that I always refer to, is asking my friends and family for ideas, and or help. When I was writing my speech for AP lang a few months ago, I entered a brief writer’s block phase, but then I started to utilize my resources. I asked my peers to read over my speech and to give their insight and ideas. Sometimes it not a bad thing to request feedback, especially when you’re struggling to figure out what you’re going to write next. But not everyone’s the same. Students may not always feel comfortable asking for help from other students, which is why you can always ask someone that you’re more comfortable with, ie. (a parent, a sibling, a teacher).

“What’s referred to as writer’s block is waiting for the third phase of creativity: inspiration,” says Oshin Vartanian, PhD, editor of the 2013 book “Neuroscience of Creativity.”

Finding inspiration is a great method for curing your writer’s block. When writing an essay for an english class, you can always ask your teacher if you can read a sample essay that someone has written in one of the past classes. (Teachers normally hold onto these), but if this fails, then don’t stop there! Use your own resources, refer to essays that you’ve written in the past, or even search for sample essays on the internet. There’s always inspiration out there, you just have to search in the right places.

At the end of the day, if none of these methods work for you, don’t give up. Writing can often be difficult, but when you finally find your rhythm again, it’s one of the greatest feelings.  If you feel like giving up, you must lift yourself back up, because in the long run, it’ll be worth it.