Columns

Still afloat on the pond of English 101

I am absolutely not going to tell you how many years ago I took English 101.

For one thing, I’m not good at math – something my college transcript verifies. For another thing, it was a really long time ago. How long ago? Well, let’s just say all of my essays were handwritten. In cursive. In pen. No, not with quill and ink.

Memories of that class were triggered when our youngest son headed out the door to Eastern Washington University last week. He’s not taking 101 – he’s teaching it.

Sam’s first day of teaching English 101/First day of kindergarten.

Sam is in the final year of his graduate degree and is a composition instructor in the English Graduate Student Assistantship Program. His 22nd birthday was Friday, but he’s already teaching a class of 24 students.

He’s relishing his new role, and I’m sure his students will benefit from his enthusiasm. For many of them, English 101 will be just another required class to get out of the way, but perhaps for some the class will trigger a desire to learn more about writing.

That’s exactly what happened to me at Spokane Falls Community College.

At 18, I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to be when I grew up. The career aptitude tests I took my senior year of high school pointed me toward fashion merchandising. I’m pretty sure that’s just a fancy way to say retail sales clerk, but I could be wrong.

Dad said college would be a better place to discover my aptitudes and paid for my first quarter at SFCC. I’d been the editor of our school newspaper and co-editor of the yearbook, so English classes didn’t scare me. I was far more terrified of classes involving math – a justified fear as evidenced in the above-mentioned transcripts.

I’m sorry to say, I don’t remember the name of my English 101 instructor. I do remember he was also the tennis coach and often wore his tennis whites to class. Maybe fashion merchandising should have been my thing, after all.

Yet, he’s the one who lit the spark of interest – who first made me wonder if perhaps writing was something I could actually be good at. To be sure, 101 is the most basic of college classes. Students typically learn the different stages of writing: gathering material, drafting ideas, revising drafts, editing and proofreading.

Sitting on my desk is one of the first essays I wrote for that class. The title? “From Duckling to Swan,” in which I related my middle school to high school transformation.

Honestly, reading it now is cringe-inducing, but I’ve saved it all these years because of the comment the instructor wrote in pencil on the title page.

“An essay like this can keep you afloat in the pond of 101.”

When that paper landed on my desk, after he first read it to the class, it was an a-ha moment for me. I thought, “This is it! This is what I want to do. I want to write and I want people to read what I’ve written.”

And here we are.

Now, it’s Sam’s turn to make a difference.

Who knows? Maybe someday a writer will sit down to pen a newspaper column or write a book, and remember an English 101 class at EWU, and the instructor who encouraged her to believe that she had a way with words. And perhaps that teacher’s name will be Sam Hval.

It wouldn’t surprise me a bit.

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