I’m a beneficiary of Oklahoma’s public schools and universities. My last post, “Red Dirt Teacher,” was undoubtedly both inspired by and homage to the teacher with whom I had the pleasure of spending parts of my day in both eighth and ninth grades, Anna Myers. It won’t likely surprise you that the year I was in her eighth grade English and reading classes was also the year her first book Red Dirt Jessie was in its final stages of publication. I believe it was released that coming summer when I went to the Lincoln County Museum and waited anxiously in line for her to sign it. She read pieces of it to us now and then, asking for our thinking about the book. Her trust in us as writers was clear. She didn’t always give us the topic for our writing in class – she recognized what Lucy Calkins notes…the fact that children have rich inner lives of their own, and we as adults don’t have to tell them about what they’ll write every time. In fact, we shouldn’t always give them a topic. It was that year, because of that freedom, that trust really, that I came to own that, “Yes! I am a writer.” And I also knew for certain, after that year, that I wanted and needed to teach.
The notion that the red dirt’s stubborn nature fosters strength in those of us who survive it has buoyed my spirits the last few years as all of us in any kind of public work in our state have entered a drought of another kind.
I also wrote in my dissertation about the kinds of rich and powerful conversations (jumping off from the meaty books we were reading) we had in Anna’s classes, some of which I remember in vivid detail. We were not expected to mirror her perspectives (in fact, in many cases we didn’t know them), but we were expected and trusted to think. I walked away with many lessons, but the most important ones weren’t overtly taught. The hidden curriculum of Anna’s classes was this: Your ideas are of value, and it’s up to you to be able to articulate them to others.
My friend Eileen Simmons puts it a little differently. Yes, others may be talking about the same topic, but no one else can say in your voice, from your perspective, drawing from your experiences.
OSU Writing Project is such a good professional home for me because it gently reminds me of this, over and over again.
Oklahoma educators,* your ideas are of value, and it’s up to you to be able to articulate them to others. It’s never been more essential to tell your stories.
*And really all of us watching the funds diminish that we need to simply do our vital work: DHS, youth services organizations, public health professionals, and more. Education is one of several areas in dire need in our state. Let’s speak up.