County writing teacher
practices what he preaches
CRESTWOOD, Ky. (April 2000) Dewey Hensley loves to teach. It
is his passion, and few could be more qualified or devoted than he is
to teaching the arts of reading and writing.
by Dianne Stoess
Hensley began teaching
at South Oldham High School in 1996
and has been there ever since.
Hensley has a long list of achievements on local, state
and national levels that elevate him in his field: He received the last
year's WHAS Excel Teacher Award; he won last year's grand prize of the
Louisville magazine LEO's poetry competition; he has given presentations
at several writers' conferences in Kentucky and throughout the country;
and he contributed an idea that will be used in a literature textbook
that will soon be distributed nationally.
Hensley also is involved in training teachers how to teach their students
to become better readers and writers. The list goes on, but for Hensley
to get where he is today took a lot of determination and help from teachers
and other mentors along the way.
As early as the fifth grade, Hensley's teachers recognized his talent
for "telling stories" and his ability to write. They gave
him the encouragement he needed to believe in himself.
"I was extremely fortunate to connect with some teachers who put
books in my hands and honored what I had to say in writing and made
me feel good about myself," says Hensley, 35.
At an early age Hensley developed skills in reading and writing that
would become important to him later on as he pursued his life long ambition
Hensley describes his family as poor and was raised in eastern Kentucky
on the West Virginia border. He was the first in his family to graduate
from high school, and his parents' limited means did not stand in his
way, since he became the first to go to college. He attended Berea College,
which enables students who lack adequate funds, but have promise and
the desire, to secure an education.
Hensley worked 20 hours most every week for $1.10 an hour, and in return,
Berea paid his tuition and room and board. Today, whenever he recognizes
a gifted student in need of financial and other types of support, he
encourages them to attend Berea.
During his years at Berea, Hensley said, "Law school is where a
lot of people pushed me. Even going out of Berea, they were saying 'you
would be a great attorney.' "
So he went to the University of Louisville to study law, but after awhile,
he discovered his heart wasn't in it. He even told his professors there
that he wasn't sure he was doing the right thing.
Fortunately, during his first year there, he learned about a scholarship
program the school offered for an experimental program to certify teachers.
He applied for the scholarship and got into the program. The opportunity
put him back to doing what he knew he really wanted.
He landed his first teaching position in the Eminence, Ky., independent
school district in Henry County and spent five years there.
Through his relationship with a friend on the Oldham County Board of
Education, he was able to secure a job at South Oldham County High School,
and began teaching there in the 1996-97 school year. He's been there
Hensley also does what he can to support local writers. The Oldham County
Creative Writers' Club, founded by Hensley and Ann Marple of the Oldham
County Public Library, meets monthly at the South Oldham County Public
Library in Crestwood. Hensley calls it "a loose, informal organization
that gives people an opportunity to express themselves."
People come and go, but there is a core group of regulars who attend
each meeting. Guest speakers such as Kentucky poet Ron Whitehead and
authors Elizabeth Beattie and James Sherburne have addressed the group.
At other times, members simply share ideas or critique each other's
writing. Local citizens and students from different backgrounds, some
of them published writers, attend.
When Marple approached Dewey about starting a writer's club, he "just
jumped right in," she said. "He said his students had been
looking for a writing group to join outside of school."
Of all his achievements and activities, however, Hensley says he is
most proud of is the projects he does with the freshmen and seniors
he teaches at the high school.
"We call ourselves a community of writers," he says. He has
photos of each one mounted the wall of his classroom.
Hensley believes that everything is as it should be for him. This is
where he belongs.
"I was just very fortunate to have the dominoes fall and just create
a pathway for me right into the place I wanted to be, which is here
in Oldham County."
For information on the Oldham County Creative Writers' Club,
contact Hensley at the school at (502) 241-6681, ext. 115.
Back to April 2000 Articles.