Disagreements During Writing Conferences

As a writing assistant, I get a variety of students that have a wide variety of needs. I’ve recently been working with Intro to College Writing students and my sessions with them are always challenging.

Yesterday, I was working with a student who was writing with sentence fragments. He wrote lists as complete sentences; dependent clauses flooded his paper.

I have met with this student several times and he is very sensitive to any suggestions I make. His writing is like his baby and I understand that feeling. However, I have to do my job as a writing assistant to help the writer and he needed to understand that he was writing sentence fragments.

I pointed out a few fragments and said that every sentence needs a subject and a verb.

He was resistant.


I knew he didn’t quite understand what I was trying to say, but after I pointed out the third fragment he was overtly upset. He said, “This is how my high school English teacher said to do it. So you’re telling me she was wrong?”

I was taken aback and I felt like he was personally attacking me.

 How can I calm down the writer and still get him to understand complete sentences? 

I said, “Every sentence has to have a subject and a verb. Where is the verb in this sentence?”


There was no verb and he was unable to answer my question.

For the rest of the session, he began to correct his fragments resentfully. At that moment, I knew that neither of us could take any more suggestions. I let him finish reading his paper and let him leave. He couldn’t handle any more assistance and neither could I.

This isn’t the only time I have been blatantly challenged at the writing center. I have had students resent my suggestions, repeatedly throw their pens, and look at me with blazing eyes.


Although it doesn’t happen frequently, this type of behavior does happen. When students have this attitude, it’s difficult for me to remain calm and not take it personally.

Maybe a question I asked them got them fired up and defensive. Maybe it’s them and their current state of mind. I never really know.

I can’t control how students respond to me. I can only remain professional and treat them with respect. Disagreements happen but I don’t want these moments to inhibit students’ writing. My goal for every writing session is for students to become better writers. This is impossible to do if we are in a battle for 30 minutes.

It’s in these moments that I learn the most about myself. How I react to situations reflects my character and I never want to act inappropriately. But I can’t lie; it’s so difficult to remain calm when the other half of the conversation is going nuts.


With each challenging moment, I feel that I am beginning to handle the situation better. I no longer have a wide-eyed, deer-in-the-headlights look on my face when a student challenges me. I can’t do that. Instead, I try to take a deep breath and lower my blood pressure, carefully explaining why I made that particular suggestion. Usually this latter tactic works wonderfully, but sometimes students aren’t ready to hear what I have to say.

I will always be working on the art of working with people. People are frustrating, annoying, disheartening, saddening, and sometimes very challenging. People are interesting creatures.

We all handle situations differently and that’s the beauty of working with people. We’re all different and we can all learn something different from each person…especially in the writing center.