Elaine Houser looked forward to her first English class. Last year, she graduated from Columbia College with honors. Unfortunately, it was right after the public schools had a city-wide layoff. Since she wasn’t able to get a job teaching, she worked as a day-care provider and a freelance editor.
One day, Columbia College contacted her about position for their annual Writers’ Workshop. The enrollment for this six-week workshop tripled this year and the administration needed qualified teachers.
“Elaine, we are looking for a teacher to cover our Creative Writing Workshop. I see that you’ve had some experience editing several manuscripts after graduation. I’ve spoken with the writers you listed on your resume and they were all very impressed with your work. Based on that and the fact that you were a recent Columbia College graduate, with honors in English, I would like to offer you a position for our workshop,” the Dean said.
“I would love to help,” Elaine said.
That day, she was assigned the class on “Introduction to Creative Writing.” She needed to take an orientation class and she would start the following week.
The workshop was a hit. Her class roster indicated thirty-eight adult students. How would she ever remember all of those names?
“Just take it one class at a time,” her husband encouraged her that morning.
By six o’clock that evening, every seat was taken. She took attendance, handed out the class syllabus and went over the first assignment.
“I want to get a handle on your own writing style, so for the first assignment, I made it easy. Write two pages on what makes you happy. It can be on any subject as long as it remains PG-rated. I don’t want to read any stories that are erotic, paranormal or vulgar. Please be sure to have your dictionary handy to check your spelling and grammar. The due date is for this assignment is next week. These assignments will come in fast so be sure to keep track of them.”
She gave them a list of commonly misspelled words and asked each student to circle the words that they gave them trouble. Their next assignment was to write a paper using all of the words that they circled. That assignment was due in two weeks.
She gave them a list of common proofreading symbols to review for five minutes before giving them an article to proofread in class. After they finished, each student traded papers with a neighbor. For homework, each student would grade the paper and bring it back to class for discussion before returning it to the student.
By the next class, everyone turned in their first assignment on time without any excuses. She laughed at some of the funny story titles.
“The Hysterical Episodes of Seinfield.”
“Losing a Ton of Weight and Feeling Great.”
“Getting Straight A’s in All Classes!”
“The Day My Husband Asked for Directions.”
“I Won the Lottery But it was Only Five Dollars.”
“I had a Face Slip before my Face Lift.”
“Mama Lost Her Weave on the Rollercoaster!”
Before Elaine took her lunch the next day, she read the first assignment with her red pen in hand. She didn’t use it since the story was completely error free. Rich Taylor wrote about his grandmother’s home cooking in his paper entitled “Grandma’s Cooking Will Make You Good Looking.” Although it made her laugh and very hungry, she gave his paper a perfect score.
There were other papers that missed those basic rules of grammar. She didn’t want to come down on them, but needed to encourage them to improve.
For the many times she wanted to write “blow the dust off your dictionary and use it,” she wrote instead “be sure to check your spelling.” She alwo wrote on a few papers, “We both know that a period belongs here, but let’s officially put a stop to this run-on sentence.” On other papers she wrote, “I am pleased with your attempts to be consistent, but you need to use the proper spelling of the following words. . . ”
The Introduction to Creative Writing ended up being the most popular course of the workshop. As an added bonus, she received a teaching position from the Dean of the English Department.
Elaine was thankful for the opportunity to work in an area that she enjoyed the most and honored to encourage her class of thirty-eight writers with a bright future ahead of them.
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