This month, we sat down with Marisa Grizenko, one of our writing coaches, to learn more about her role at Options.
Tell us a little about yourself and your role at Options Solutions.
As I was finishing my MA, I wasn’t sure what to do next, but I knew that one of the best parts of my graduate school experience had been working with students as a TA. When I was presented with the opportunity to work at Options as a writing coach, it felt like the perfect fit. In this role, I’m given the flexibility to tailor my teaching to each client’s needs. It’s interesting how much variety I might encounter in a day: from working on a law school application, to helping draft a speech, to analyzing a short story, to brainstorming for a university application essay, to discussing study strategies, to conducting research for a paper, my clients and I cover a lot of ground! In addition to the one-on-one work, I run different workshops and work closely with my writing coach counterpart, Alyssa, and other co-workers to develop curriculum. In a nutshell, my role is to help students find their voice, think critically, read effectively, and refine their written expression through lots of practice.
What do you enjoy most about working at Options?
I love my co-workers! Everyone here really does their best to do right by our clients and one another. My colleagues are hardworking and caring and deeply capable. With three offices, we’re rarely all in the same room, but when we are, it’s a great time.
What is the value of working with a Writing Coach?
I really believe that the only way to improve at something is to give it your full attention, really narrow in on what you’re doing—right and wrong—and then practice incessantly until you’ve made some small difference. Then you keep going. It’s hard work, of course, so it’s helpful to have someone there who can coach you along, gently point out weaknesses, acknowledge your strengths, give you a snack, etc.
There’s a lot of fear and shame bound up with writing, perhaps even with learning itself. Students equate not knowing something with being inadequate. They compare themselves to their peers. They blame themselves for lessons they may never have been taught in the first place. They feel like imposters. I’ve felt this myself (ask me about my MA thesis!). I love getting to sit down one on one with students and focus on the writing. People spend so much time saying, “I’m a bad writer!” but imagine if, instead of castigating themselves, they decided to spend that time actually writing?
A writing coach can re-direct the conversation; instead of indulging debilitating self-doubt, let’s talk about practical ways to improve! We can identify the little infelicities of language—a weird rhetorical move, a common grammatical issue—and help our students systematically target them.
That’s not to say that students who enjoy writing can’t benefit from a writing coach; even the strongest writers can improve their craft. One-on-one time with a writing coach can provide opportunities to take risks with your writing in ways you might not want to do in school when grades are at stake.
What’s been your biggest success or learning opportunity at Options?
I’ve learned a lot working at Options:
- the semi-colon and colon are largely misunderstood
- using a calendar is very helpful
- the beauty of words will forever awe me
- students don’t love 9 am workshops on Saturdays
The biggest learning opportunity, though, comes every time I try something new (a new language, computer program, or game). I inevitably struggle, feel out my depth, and want to quit, which reminds me that learning how to improve as a writer, reader, and thinker is just as hard and that humility is essential for being a good teacher.
My biggest success is each time a student begins to feel more confident and more at home with writing. It takes time and often reveals itself slowly, but this is by far the most magical part of my work.
What’s one last thing you want people to know?
Reading widely and often and with enthusiasm is the greatest and easiest way to radically improve your writing. I’d be happy to provide recommendations.