Addressing the Whole Student
Kyle Harley, Kaplan University Writing Center Tutor
There seems to be a fascinating approach to coaching overpaid athletes these days in the form of addressing the “whole player.” I say this in a very tongue-in-cheek fashion because being paid $250,000 per week must be incredibly difficult. I can only imagine the corners they must cut to make ends meet.
Levity aside, I really began assessing this notion of the “whole player.” How can this be defined? The “whole player” includes the human being behind the flashing lights and immense paychecks. These people have families, other interests, plenty of obligations, and emotions. In very much the same way, when considering our students, how often do we consider the “whole student?”
The need to address the “whole student” became much more evident when I helped a student nearly in tears. The shakiness of her voice, coupled with what she viewed as scathing comments by her instructor, set the tone for our live tutoring session. After prodding a bit and uncovering the requirements of the assignment, the student appeared to calm down considerably—that is until I pulled up the draft to dissect some of the commentary. Immediately she shut down; the sea of commentary filled the margins from the first page to the last and seemed to overwhelm her. Many of the comments hearkened back to three weeks prior when the student, based on her word, had to miss a considerable amount of class time due to a variety of issues concerning her mental health.
Questioning becomes immensely important during these sort of therapy-like sessions. One wrong move could spiral the student further out of control, so I decided to keep the focus on the issues the instructor continually brought up. What happened three weeks ago? How, with my degrees in English, could I help with any sort of mental health issue? At the time I found myself a bit nervous, but I decided to just listen. That’s it. Sure, our session ended up being a bit longer than most, but after ten minutes of airing her frustrations and explaining her issue, her tone completely changed. After this session, I tried to think about it from a student’s perspective.
What kind of people did we enjoy most in school?t I think I can speak for the majority when I say that most of our favorite teachers, tutors, and faculty were individuals who truly cared—and cared for the students around them. We are all professionals, here to help, and when this student was finally able to openly and honestly speak about her condition and how it directly impacted her ability to meet deadlines and accomplish tasks she could not understand, she found a sympathetic ear. I may not have a fancy couch in my office where students can vent frustrations while I jot notes on a pad of paper aimlessly, but simply listening, a very honest skill, meant the world to her. We have all been in similar situations at some point, especially during our first years in a collegiate setting. Most of my best memories and interactions with professors occurred in a private setting where I could further explain any given issue and gauge the professor’s persona. Sometimes, realizing that a human being, more than likely burdened with multiple other issues, sits behind the name that we see on the screen remains key. Taking a bit of extra time out of your day to understand where a student is coming from, regardless of if you agree with it or buy into it, alleviates a great deal of student-felt stress. By realizing that a student is, in fact, a whole person, we can then begin to progress forward as I did in this session.
My student became jovial, even joking with me to an extent in following e-mails regarding her progress on the next assignment. She became whole again, and it all boiled down to the simplest of mottos, one which I aptly remember from a bumper sticker: Bark less and wag more. As professionals in the field of higher education we must remember that students, at times, need a bit of extra attention to really bring out the best in their abilities. I still work and communicate with this student quite frequently, and I fully intend on continuing my work in this area to see a fantastic person reach her lofty and achievable goals.