Art critique

Front Porch: English Teacher’s 101 Life-Changing Criticism


I’m absolutely not going to tell you how many years I’ve been following English 101.

For one thing, I’m not good at math – something my college transcript checks for. On the other hand, that was a very long time ago. How long ago? Well let’s just say all of my essays were handwritten. In cursive. With a pen. No, not with a quill and ink.

The memories of that class were triggered when our youngest son walked out the door of Eastern Washington University last week. He doesn’t take 101 – he teaches it.

Sam is in the final year of his graduate degree and teaches composition as part of the Graduate Student Assistance Program in English. His 22nd birthday was Friday, but he already teaches 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 mandatory course to get away from it all, but maybe for some, the course will trigger the desire to learn more about writing.

This is 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 professional aptitude tests I took during my last year of high school oriented me towards fashion merchandising. I’m pretty sure that’s just a fancy way of saying retailer, but I could be wrong.

Dad said college would be a better place to find my skills and paid for my first term at SFCC. I had been editor of our school newspaper and co-editor of the yearbook, so English lessons didn’t scare me. I was much more terrified of classes involving math – a justified fear as evidenced by the transcripts mentioned above.

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

Still, it was he who sparked the spark of interest – which first made me wonder if writing was maybe something I could be good at. Granted, 101 is the most basic of college courses. Students typically learn the different stages of writing: collecting material, writing ideas, reviewing drafts, editing, and proofreading.

Sitting on My Desk is one of the first essays I wrote for this class. The title? “From Duckling to Swan,” in which I linked my college transformation to high school transformation.

Honestly reading it now makes my teeth cringe, but I saved it all these years because of the comment the instructor wrote in pencil on the title page.

“A try like this can keep you afloat in Pond 101.”

When this paper landed on my desk, after he first read it to class, it was an unforgettable 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 have written.

And here we are.

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

Who knows? Maybe one day a writer will sit down to write a journal column or write a book, and remember an English 101 class at EWU and the instructor who encouraged it. as if she knew how to use words. And maybe this professor’s name will be Sam Hval.

It wouldn’t surprise me at all.

No more concert memories

In a recent column, I asked readers to share musical memories. Here are a few more.

Donna Foreman had a spectacular first date at a 1980 Beach Boys concert in Pullman. She and her date had front row seats, private passes, and enjoyed dinner and breakfast with the group.

“Dennis Wilson sang to me ‘Oh, Donna’ sitting on the couch with their manager. I got to talk to everyone in the bar and get autographs,” Foreman said. “I was in seventh heaven all night long. Breakfast the next morning was at a big round table with everyone there, they were so down to earth and kind.

And Neil Diamond fan Carol Capra wrote: “My favorite and unbeatable best gig is ‘Hot August Night with Neil Diamond’ at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles in August 1972.”

Although she has seen Garth Brooks, John Denver and Elvis in concert, she says, “Neil’s program was the best!


Correspondent Cindy Hval can be reached at [email protected] Hval is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories from the Greatest Generation” (Casemate Publishers, 2015) available from Auntie’s Bookstore and Barnes & Noble and on


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