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The Write Touch

Oldham County writing teacher
practices what he preaches

By Dianne Stoess
Contributing Writer


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.

Dewey Hensley

Photo by Dianne Stoess

Dewey 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 to teach.
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 ever since.
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.

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