Writing about writing

Posts tagged ‘writing instruction’

Life-Long Learner

As I have shared with you before, I am an English Instructor at a community college. I have been teaching English for a total of 19 years–counting the 2 years I taught at a high school. I think that it is safe to say that I am well-versed and educated in the field of writing and literature. At least, I feel confident that you will agree with me in that respect.

In spite of almost twenty years of teaching experience as a writing instructor, I am always learning and growing, not only as an instructor, but also as a writer. I do a lot of writing myself. I tell my students all the time that I do not ask them to do anything that I have not done myself or that I am not willing to do myself. So if I give them an assignment and I have never done what I am assigning, I will do it, too. Sometimes I share with them the writing that I do.

The bottom line is that I believe that no matter how good we may be in our field of expertise, we are life-long learners; we are always and can always learn something new or a new way of doing things. (Technology alone keeps us teachers on our toes!) Therefore, I am always reading about writing, writing about writing, participating in writing groups, and so on. I have recently begun taking a writing class at a local library. The focus is supposed to be on publishing–the area I am weakest in, but of course, in order to get to the publishing aspect, we have to do the writing first!

Thankfully, I am enjoying this experience with like-minded writers outside of my own classroom setting. Yes, it is difficult to be the student rather than the instructor, but it is also important as a teacher to be reminded of what it is like being a student. When I put myself in their shoes every once in a while, I find myself being more empathetic regarding their work and performance in my classroom, especially in regards to constructive criticism since I have such a horrific fear of rejection and/or criticism!! (It’s true.)

Anyway, our first writing assignment for this class was to choose a place of importance to write about. Following is my essay for that assignment–prior to in-class revisions or in-class peer reviews:

20151128_171729The KinDome

By Polly Anna Watson

I was 7 years old when we first moved to North Carolina. We lived in a house my parents had purchased in Nashville that was part of a typical familial sub-division. I had a lot of good memories in that house, but my parents had a dream of building a home of their own–a dome.

Years prior, they had seen a dome home at a Home Show they had gone to in Ohio. Mom fell in love and from that moment on, they dreamed of one day living in a dome home.

Sometime around the time I was in late 5th or 6th grade, my parents bought a piece of property just a few miles away from the home my grandparents had recently moved into. They immediately began clearing the property of trees and began researching dome homes. It took a number of years, but the day came when we moved into our basement–that was all that was built and semi-ready to be lived in. I was starting 7th grade and had to switch from the north end of the county to the south end of the county.

We lived in the basement for several years while the upstairs–top part of the dome–was built. I remember the day we put the shell up; it was like a good old-fashioned barn-raising. We had men and women from all over the county come and help. As was typical, the men worked on the building while the women cooked and made sure the men had plenty to drink.

I had enough of a fascination with photography that during the building of the dome, my dad let me use his Nikon camera that he’d gotten while he was in Vietnam to take pictures. I became the official photographer of the building of the dome. I had no training, but I did the best I could and learned a lot in the process.

Everyone in the family worked on the dome in some, way, shape, form, or fashion, including my Grandpa who had to have been in his sixties during the years we built the dome. My dad studied and learned how to do everything necessary so that the only things he had to get contractors for was putting in the upstairs railing, doing the carpeting, the painting upstairs, and having kitchen cabinets made. And he only hired contractors because the bank demanded that he finish building the dome.

Along with being the “official” photographer (I just had a deja-vu moment–it’s as if I was writing this very essay while watching Dances with Wolves already), it was also my job to be my dad’s gopher, cook quick lunches when I was not in school, make the sweet tea and/or kool-aid and be sure everyone had something to drink and stayed hydrated, and as I got older, I helped with cutting the insulation and then the wood paneling for the triangles. I remember having to take the insulation or pieces of the triangle from where my dad and I cut them on a model he’d made on the floor to my grandpa who was up on the scaffolding, putting in the insulation and the paneling. As someone who was (and still is) scared of heights, this was the worst job in the world for me. I hated it, but I was determined to do my part, so I pushed through–usually because I wasn’t given the option of anything less.

I’m not sure of the official height and other dimensions of the dome, but I do know that the center from floor to ceiling is at least 25 feet. There are 2-½ floors: the full basement (full bathroom, bedrooms, and kitchen with all the amenities), main floor (2 bedrooms, 1-½ baths, kitchen, and main living room), and the upstairs balcony with 2 bedrooms overlooking the main floor and a large bathroom in between. There are two porches–one that wraps fully around half the dome and the other that is ¼ of the other side with a covered porch.

My room was the one of the left looking up into the balcony and my older brother’s room was the one on the right. We can see directly into each bedroom. I had a closet, but my brother only had an armoire. We quickly learned to respect one another’s privacy. My little sister had the bedroom off the kitchen and my parents’ bedroom was through the bathroom and on the other side.

The day we put in all the kitchen appliances was my little sister’s 7th birthday, so even to this day, she jokes that all the kitchen appliances are hers. Although just recently, Mom and Dad had to get a brand new refrigerator. It’s hard to believe sometimes that more than thirty years have passed since we even finished building the dome! The roof had to be replaced where the skylights are because of water damage and the whole house was reshingled just a few years ago.

I had my first real kiss on the upstairs staircase during my 16th birthday party. The boy I was absolutely in love with had come to my birthday party. I was overjoyed, to say the least! He pulled me aside for a little tete-a-tete on the stairs. While we were there, he kissed me! Granted, it was just a short and simple, closed-mouth kiss, but it was the sweetest moment ever!!! I was so in love with that boy!!! What made that birthday all the more memorable was that in preparation for my party, I moved my parents’ car off to the side of the main driveway to make room for my friends’ cars. In moving the car, though, I backed into a tree! I dented both the back and front driver’s side doors. To my knowledge, those dents stayed in that car even through two separate owners!

We celebrated my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary in the dome. All my aunts, uncles, cousins, and other friends and family members came and we all fit into the dome just fine. We also celebrated their lives in the dome after their deaths–again with everyone in the family. During weddings (such as mine, my sister’s, and my uncle’s), we have had upwards of 25 people sleeping and staying at the dome at once. We celebrate almost every Christmas at the dome together as well as Thanksgiving and other major holidays. We used to get a Christmas tree that went high enough that we had to have a ladder even on the balcony in order to put the tree-top on! In recent years, though, my parents have purchased a smaller tree and kept it wrapped throughout the year and pull it out on the balcony at Christmas.

It is wonderful to sit in the dome now, more than twenty years later, knowing that we each had used our own bare hands to piece together my parents’ dream home. I love being at the dome not only because it’s so beautiful, but also because the dome means home, love, family, and togetherness. Honestly, I hope that the day comes when I am able to spend my final days at the dome.

When I die, I want to be cremated and my ashes used as the fodder for a tree that will be planted near the dome so that I will forever and ever be a part of the dome, even if that is only my remains that do so.


To teach or not to teach….

Back in September of 2016, a trusted friend of mine told me about a writing class that was being offered through the Continuing Education department of my college. As a wanna-be-published-author, I jumped at the opportunity to take a class on furthering my career, especially once I learned that we would write a book and publish it by the end of the class! What aspiring author wouldn’t want such an opportunity?!

I signed up for the class, but it was post-poned until this year. In the meantime, I talked a friend of mine who is also a writer-wanna-be to take the class with me. We were both uber-excited about it and talked about it all the time. We even arrived at the class more than an hour early!

As is typical, we spent the first part of the class introducing ourselves and getting to know a little about one another. It was fun! There were nine ladies and the male instructor! We were all eager and ready to learn about self-publishing and happy to know that the others in the class were like-minded.

Our instructor then gave us about a half hour to brainstorm story ideas. After going around the room to share our ideas, he shared his story idea about a suicidal dog—for an audience of 7 to 10 year olds.

In all seriousness, what is YOUR response to reading that??? (Before you read any further, I’d love to hear your thoughts.)

To a woman, our response was, “Ummm, that’s way too dark for a children’s story. No.”

For the next half hour, our instructor proceeded to tell us to “trust him” (I lost count of how many times he said that) and that he knows, beyond a shadow-of-a-doubt, that there is an audience for such a story. It was clear not only by the reactions of the ladies in the room but also by how insistent our instructor was that we “trust him” that this subject matter was not kosher across the board.

While discussing this situation with a co-worker, I was asked what the instructor has published. I am ashamed to say that I had not researched that. I knew our instructor has a travel blog that has been picked up by a local newspaper, but beyond that, I had not heard of anything else he had published. So we looked him up—we googled him, and we searched Amazon and Barnes & Noble—nothing. We kept getting links to the blog he’d already shown us. And his blog entries did not impress me.

I felt like an idiot.

Honestly, how in the world is this guy going to teach me about something he hasn’t even done himself???

How would YOU feel if you found out that your instructor hadn’t even done what he/she is asking you to do? Don’t you typically go into a learning situation with a basic assumption—understanding—that the instructor has done what he/she is teaching? That the instructor not only has had the instruction, but he/she has also DONE the lesson?!

From my perspective, it did NOT inspire confidence in me. In fact, it discouraged me enough that I have made the decision not to return to the class.

I truly would love to hear some thoughts about this….


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