My Love Affair with Words:
From as far back as I can remember, I have always loved words. I was an early talker. I even sang solos in church when I was four. Adopted by middle-aged parents, I spent hours entertaining myself with books and classic television. I had a love for old movies that inspired my fascination with a good story, whether it is in a book, told by a competent storyteller, or acted out on stage or screen. My favorite place to go was the public library where I could get lost for hours. I traveled there on the bus from the age of twelve with a big bag of books to exchange and devour when I got home. To this day, I still travel to the library with a big bag of books. Having a Kindle with plenty of downloads has lessened my load.
When I was in eighth grade, I saw my niece, Viola Ann, who was four years older, star as Eliza Doolittle in an all-Black version of My Fair Lady, and I fell in love with the theater. I couldn’t wait to get to high school so I could join the drama club. And I did. I was in a few plays, and even more talent shows, and I developed a passion for modern dance as well. I loved to be at school for any reason because there were people around and things to do. When I was home, I read. Books were my company. I read novels, plays, and short stories. An English anthology was a gold mine to me, and I often carried on one-on-one conversations with my teachers in class because I was the only one who had read the assignment. Since the first book club I joined over twenty years ago, I write down the names of the books I’ve read. Someday I’ll add them all up.
My Name is Teacher.
I always knew what I wanted to do. I loved high school from the first day I set foot in it, so it was only logical that I become a teacher so that I could stay there forever. I grew up on the west side of Chicago, known for its crime and poverty. Reading was both an escape to safety and an inspiration to my imagination. My high school years witnessed the assassinations of Malcolm X, Robert Kennedy, and Dr. King, so I was relieved to get away from my riot-torn neighborhood to a smaller town where I could focus on my studies. I went to college at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, and majored in English. This was not a popular major in 1968. To many, majoring in the king’s English meant you were selling out. The politically-minded students majored in sociology or psychology so they could go out and change the world. I chose to change the world by making English both enjoyable and relevant to my students. I think I did, for most of them, anyway.
I started my teaching career in Peoria, married, then moved to Texas with my husband and three sons. We had one more after the move, and I managed to juggle my career and motherhood for the next twenty years. I earned a master’s degree in humanities from the University of Dallas, and continued to engage my interest in theater by coaching students for speech and drama contests and directing plays. I’ve taught many local actors and I volunteered with three theater companies. The greatest rewards in teaching are the relationships that you develop with your students, and the joy you feel when they come back and thank you for your role in their lives. I’ve experienced success with both.
Moving On . . .
After teaching twenty-eight years in Fort Worth, I decided it was time for a change. Those students who hung out in my classroom after school were no longer there. The school district philosophy was driven by the latest standardized test instead of the love of good literature. Even more discouraging was the fact that young people no longer wanted to read. One of my students, whom I hadn’t thought I influenced at all, gave me a silver bowl with an engraving from Thomas Jefferson to John Adams. It said, “I cannot live without books.” I agree. But the current trends in education support updating and excerpting everything in bits and pieces, and turning everything into a group project. This makes it possible for students to graduate without understanding the power of books, and in many cases, without ever having read one.
Books change the world. I decided that if I couldn’t teach books, then I would write them. I look at the writers I admire: Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and of course, Zora Neale Hurston, and I wonder what inspired them to write what they did. I’m sure it was their lives, and the people who came in and out, talking, impacting, loving, and leaving. So I looked at my own life for stories to tell and I saw that there were many, enough to keep me busy another twenty-eight years. So though out of the classroom, words are still my tools of the trade. I believe in the power of language, love, and family. I hope this comes through in my work.
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