Writing and writing

I have been writing A LOT for the past two weeks. For reasons that are both complicated and idiotic, I have to take three English courses in order to be allowed to take two courses which will officially make me “fully qualified” for the job I’ve been doing for seven years. Short explanation: don’t move countries mid-career.

At any rate, with some (ok, a lot of) cajoling and support from my (wonderful) colleagues and husband, I finally decided to get this credential issue out of the way this summer. I had it all planned out, but… someone made an honest (and costly to me) mistake, and I ended up registered for three on-line undergraduate composition courses in August. (Side note: The reason Comp 101 is not on my transcript is because I effectively tested out of it – when I was 17.)

I’m not going to lie, I spent more time than was healthy feeling sorry for myself. Then I spent a fair amount of time doing the whole 1990s “rage against the machine” thing – just another version of feeling sorry for myself, really. My friends and family practically achieved sainthood merely by listening to me explain how dumb this all is. Finally – finally – I got down to work. I’ve been writing A LOT.

It’s been fascinating.

Not unexpectedly, first year university composition classes have little to do with five paragraph essays. I love that I’ll be able to go back to teaching high school with this knowledge firmly in hand. I’ve written descriptive paragraphs, a summary of debate, a personal essay with research and an argumentative essay. Next up? A rhetorical analysis (which I’ve been putting off). Second year comp includes an expository essay, an argumentative essay, a persuasive essay, and a research essay. Creative non-fiction is making me write about place and culture.

I resent some of the assignments. I don’t want to write a rhetorical analysis of Frank McCourt. I have no desire to write a persuasive essay about heroes. “Who cares about this?” I grumble. Still, I mold and shape the topics, find the ideas, search for the words. I write.

It has been a long time since I wrote essays. Suddenly, I am in my students’ shoes – and not just in my memory or via my (sometimes dwindling) empathy. Writing essays day after day reminds me what a complex a task this really is. I read models, try to discern the teacher’s expectation, choose a topic from among those offered, and then I almost always pause. Sometimes I need research; always I need to brainstorm. Some days I walk around the house or the neighborhood to get my ideas in order. Good essays require good thinking.

When I started, one of my colleagues said, “They’re a bunch of 1000-word essays. You can write that in an hour or two.” But I can’t. I have to pare my thoughts down, write my “shitty first draft” (oh, how Anne Lamott’s words comfort and guide me). I have to observe and consider. I have to rewrite and then reread and rewrite again. I have to be a writer.

I’ve written eight essays so far. I have seven to go. I have drafts for four. I have ideas for all of them. I have three weeks until school starts, and one week with the kids off of camp. Can I get it all done? I don’t know. But I am going to be a much better writer for trying. That’s not an outcome I expected from this exercise.

Wish me luck. That rhetorical analysis awaits.

 

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16 thoughts on “Writing and writing

  1. Oh, Amanda I feel your pain. I cannot just write something quick either-I need to write my SFD and I spend way too much time on any kind of writing. And ouch – rhetorical analysis! Knowing a little of who you are, I bet this experience will make you a stronger teacher of writers!

    You can do this!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m always amazed by people who can whip out a piece of writing. I’m with you on the draft, revise, rewrite, step away, reread, etc. Good luck with all the writing. How nice to already recognize the additional value you’re getting from this. Silver lining, right? By the way, I’m not sure I even know what a rhetorical analysis is! Happy writing!

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  3. 1) This is why we live in Canada instead of New Jersey. When my husband was going to immigrate that way across the border he was told he’d have to re-do his entire first year of university. He’d completed Grade 13, then a 3 year degree so the transcript evaluation people thought he’d need to re-do all the first year stuff. So now I live in Canada.
    2) I can’t believe this!! Were you that many credits short to do senior qualifications? This happened to my brother in law, who came here from Australia with a master’s degree. He didn’t have enough courses in any one subject to get his intermediate qualifications in anything so he had to re-take a basic science course. Weird. I, on the other hand, had enough US history courses to be allowed to take the history intermediate AQ to teach history to Canadians when I had no proof what-so-ever that I’d learned any Canadian history (I didn’t!) I did the English ABQ instead, and that’s a stellar episode in “My ridiculous life”.
    3) I still think this is a neat opportunity for you. 🙂

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  4. Wow. And I thought I had a busy summer. But just think how much those poor TAs who have to grade all those essays will appreciate your thoughtful and concise prose. You are doing a great kindness.

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    1. I don’t want to brag, but I got 100 on my expository essay. Of course, rather than “How to Make a Bed” or whatever other topic the undergrads chose, I *might* have written “How to Use Guerrilla Warfare Tactics to Dress Your Toddler.” Even I thought it was hilarious – in 825 words or less. 🙂

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  5. Oh, that rhetorical analysis sounds like the pits. Sorry you have that ahead of you!

    Funny how we have to jump through hoops to do the jobs we know we’re more than qualified to do so that we can tick a box on a piece of paper. (Anyone who’s read your blog knows exactly why you passed out of that requirement when you were 17. You’re a fantastic writer, Amanda!)

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  6. I’m almost willing to write that rhetorical analysis for you because I love that type of writing. Almost willing. Not quite there!

    I feel competing emotions for you: jealousy for all you’re learning in your role as student and the validation we must drive a stake into the vampire heart of the five-paragraph essay, and pity for your having to jump through these hoops.

    We all need to be in student skin more often than we are.

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  7. Yikes! Unbelievable red tape. For some reason I think of Catch-22 … yet, as something eternally optimistic lives in my heart, I have to believe something really good will come of this. While the rest of me wants to beat my head against the wall on your behalf. 🙂

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  8. I understand your pain, Amanda! It’s hard to get back into taking classes and writing essays (for grades). I don’t think anyone would begrudge you a little (or a lot) of complaining. Good luck!

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  9. The dread of high school and college papers bubbled up reading this. I would be having a pity party too. At least, you are finding the bright side and will come out with stories and experience that will make you a better teacher for your writers. Good luck!

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  10. What you are writing takes time because you are writing with a purpose that sometimes resists the prescribed form. Maybe that’s where we need to meet our students first – determine your purpose for writing.

    The most important take away for me is the experience of the struggle with our students- can we get a group of heads to commit to writing with our students and sharing our writing with one another this year?

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I felt this way when I had to work on recertification for National Boards last year. I got it done and am probably better for it. It does help to be a student every once in a while, but I hope I’m done with it. Good luck in getting it all finished. I’m happy you took the time to write a slice about it.

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