Growing up as an only child in the gritty little city of McKeesport, Pa., I learned early on how to be alone with my thoughts. My mother’s penchant for morning reflection, as illustrated in my essay titled, “Ironing Day: Gift of Reflection,” provided me with a living model of the reflective life, a great resource for anyone who possesses an itch to write.
In 1970 I was hired to teach seventh grade language arts in the Laurel Highlands at Greater Latrobe School District after completing my B.S degree in English Education at Indiana University of Pennsylvania [IUP]. Upon completion of my M. Ed. and certification as a reading specialist in 1975, I spent the next 21 years working with secondary students, grades 7-12, with reading deficiencies as a resource room teacher. In this capacity I employed strategies to develop student comprehension, study skills, and overall literacy while supporting students with the school curriculum. During the summers of 1977 and 1978, I also completed post-Master’s work in secondary reading and content area reading strategies at Indiana University-Bloomington, Indiana.
Through the resource room years my fondest memory is of an innovative, cross-grades literacy program that I designed and for which I obtained funding. In Project B.R.A.G., Bridging Reading Across the Grades, I prepared the junior high remedial readers to do oral story reading presentations from a collection of children’s books to small groups of 4th grade students in our three elementary schools. After participating in the Institute for Readers Theater’s two-week summer workshop in London, England, July of 1993, where I learned various styles of readers theater and how to write RT scripts from a variety of literature, I enhanced the Project B.R.A.G. experience by rehearsing my junior high school students on readers theater scripts and performing them for the 4th graders. I also transcribed the trial chapters, rich in dialogue, from the novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, for use in the 9th grade English classes at Latrobe Junior High.
From 1996-2002 I returned to the “regular” classroom—six challenging years integrating a laptop technology initiative into the teaching of 7th grade Developmental Reading and 9th grade Speech-Media Communications—to close out my public school teaching career. Following a year of career and avocational exploration, I began teaching as an adjunct instructor in the Developmental Studies Department at Community College of Allegheny County—Allegheny campus on Pittsburgh’s North Side and at the Homewood-Brushton Center. My previous teaching background, with a strong research and technology component, had prepared me for helping incoming students at CCAC to improve study-reading strategies, time management, and research skills. After three rewarding years, my teaching career was brought to a halt by a change in policy by the Pennsylvania State Educators Retirement System, prohibiting annuitants from part-time employment at state-funded educational entities.
From there it was “welcome to the world of retail,” with a six-year stint selling big-screen TV’s and other electronics at Sears, followed by 16 months in electronics sales at a local Wal-Mart. Excellent training in selling processes at Sears, in combination with my experience as a teacher of communication arts, had equipped me with the skills to provide great customer service. After 35 years of teaching, where results of hard work are not always immediately apparent, the world of retail, with its sales stats, product displays, and signage, was a refreshing change of pace until I decided in August of 2013 that another change of direction was in order.
Feeling an increasing desire to spend more time writing, I ceased the part-time retail work as a test for myself—to see what I might be able to accomplish with more discretionary time. Since then I have been using my time to participate in classes in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Pittsburgh. Classes in literature, writing, sociology, philosophy, and religious studies have opened my eyes to new topics and forms for writing. In addition I block off time for my writing projects most days of the week—sharing writing with friends and other writers in groups and classes, participating in workshop opportunities, and experimenting with different genres of writing. I think about writing every day and sometimes even in my sleep. It’s almost as though I feel like I am writing even when I’m not writing.
Since February of 2014, I have been training as a volunteer docent at the renovated and expanded Westmoreland Museum of American Art (WMAA). I began with other “rookies” by conducting some student tours in my first year while the museum was temporarily housed in a former furniture store. Since the move from the temporary site back to the re-imagined and expanded museum, I have enjoyed conducting tours for adult groups as well. I am excited by the prospects of how writing can be inspired and enhanced by works of visual art.
Several unexpected developments bolstered my confidence as a fledgling writer during the summer of 2014. In late June I was contacted by This I Believe, informing me that my “Ironing Day: Gift of Reflection” essay, submitted almost a year earlier in August of 2013, had been selected for inclusion in the online essay collection of This I Believe at the following link:
This essay can also be found on my website under Memoir Musings. I was also taken on as a contributing writer for Trib Total Media in the summer of 2014. Two of my feature articles appeared in the “Greensburg-Hempfield Neighborhoods” section of the Greensburg Tribune-Review that summer. Unfortunately, the editor for whom I worked, passed away and, due to other projects, I have not yet re-connected with the new editor there. Of course, I have been working on the memoir project pretty steadily since 2012. Some sample works from the memoir will appear under the Memoir Musings section of this website.
I love to read great writing. In recent months I have focused heavily on creative non-fiction and memoir. Some writers who bedazzle me are Frank McCourt, Laura Hillenbrand, Joyce Carol Oates, Joan Didion, and Christopher Buckley, to name a few.
I am also trying to explore literary magazines as a regular part of my reading habit. I have recently subscribed to Sequestrum, December, and Creative Nonfiction publications.
Throughout my teaching career and in retirement, I have a history of sharing—information, best practices, work. I remember a time in the 1990’s, having returned from a professional conference with material for dissemination to my Latrobe colleagues, when our communication arts coordinator said to me, “Nobody in the department shares any better than you do.”
So it is in this spirit of sharing that I offer pieces of my writing to you on this website. I hope that you will discover something that inspires and delights. Thank you for your interest in Scratches, Purrs, and Gravy Treats.
David L. Knoepfle