2e, Academic

Literacy Lessons Learned

I have not been as diligent with posting on my blog as I would like to be, but I have been busy with coursework. However, I am still writing, and I’d like to share with you an essay I wrote for my English class as proof (with a few edits included).

Literacy Lessons Learned

The chorus of Tracy Lawrence’s “Lessons Learned” sums up my experience in literacy:  “Lessons learned and they sure run deep / They don’t go away and they don’t come cheap…” In my early childhood, I learned to read and write, but those teachings were expanded upon and kept coming as I grew older. My lessons in literacy were not always formal or even straightforward, but they taught me about myself and my relationships with others, and they shaped who I am today.

My earliest memories of reading go back to my early years, before kindergarten. My single mother worked three jobs in order to support my sister and me, and we lived at my grandparents’ farm and ranch until we were five. While my mother worked, my grandmother watched us, and she wondrously instilled in us a love of reading. I first felt my imagination come alive through barnyard sounds. Though I do not remember the name, I can recall my grandmother’s enthusiasm as she peep-peep-peeped her way through the book. Perhaps she delighted in how attentive I was during naptime. Other times of the day, my innate curiosity frequently got me into trouble. The closer I got to kindergarten, the more reading became a way into another world where trouble or boredom could not touch me.

As time moved on, “peep, peep, peep” gave way to a classic. An Apple Ran was the book I chose to color and staple together in my kindergarten class, and that story was the first one I ever truly read. My teacher advised my classmates and me to read to the other classrooms from the books we each had assembled. The idea that others could enjoy what I created was remarkable. Pride in my work lent itself to eagerness, and once I had learned to read, I could not get enough. After kindergarten, I read everything that crossed my path, from Dr. Seuss books to Dr. Pepper labels to the dictionary.

By the time sixth grade rolled around, I knew I loved to read and I knew I was curious, but I had not known the desire to learn everything. The Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program sparked my inquisitiveness and pushed me ahead of the pack. I was no longer content until I found the answer I was searching for, and I was immensely pleased when it was right. When it was wrong, I wanted to know why. So, when—to my dismay—my sixth-grade teacher told me I “write like a boy,” I pondered the reason behind my wasted ink. I had never noticed that my handwriting was atrocious, filled with scribbles, strike-throughs, and write-overs. My analytical mind did not let me settle for “It was just an observation.” Several years passed before I realized that I simply felt compelled to edit my work, to perfect it.

Yet, terrible handwriting did not get in the way of solving math problems. In math class, our teacher taught us that there was no right or wrong way to get the solution, only different approaches to the same problem. Was it possible that teachers and parents did not have all the answers, that some answers were not cut and dry, and that it was possible to see things in more than one way? Although my class of eighteen was not diverse, I understood immediately that people of other cultures who possessed different values and beliefs were not wrong purely because they did not think like me. They were just different from me, and that was ok. Like Richard Rodriguez sensing the cultural differences between his home life and his school life (18), I sensed differences in my peers and instinctively knew there were as many approaches to solving a problem as there were people to solve it.

The following year, my seventh-grade teacher declared that my classmates and I were to keep a journal. Keeping this journal was a way to learn about myself and about my relationships with others. Middle school could be a precarious place, but my precocity and the writing process let me find my footing rather quickly, and I learned how to express myself more clearly. I keep a journal to this day.

High school brought a whirlwind of new experiences, and, naturally, it was a time when my parents were a major source of grief. My dad habitually called me fickle. At the time, however, I thought Dad just meant I changed boyfriends like I changed my underwear. Actually, he was trying to tell me I should stick with something long enough to see it through to the end—the same goes for writing. When Dad was not calling me fickle, he was calling me “stooopid.” He meant that there was always more to learn, and I was supremely ignorant of that fact.

My mom was easier to understand; she always said the first thing that came to her mind, uncouth or not. I get that from her, so she should not have been surprised when I told my dad I did not want to come home smelling like her. My mom was a cashier at a convenience store, and besides cashiering and managing the store, she made burgers. The smell of the grill on her grease-soaked clothes made me want more opportunities than she had. Education was the key to bettering my socioeconomic status, and my mom’s “way of life [was] not only different but starkly opposed to that of the classroom” (Rodriguez 18). I could not afford to admire my mother any longer, yet that smell “often remind[s] [me] of the person [I] once was and the life [I] earlier shared with [her]” (Rodriguez 19). Sometimes I still yearn for that greasy-grill smell.

My years after high school brought more tribulations. I enrolled in college for the first time, but I also worked full-time, so my enrollment was met with challenges. My fickleness kicked in. Consequently, I withdrew from two classes and failed the other two. One of the latter classes was English 1301, and part of that failure had to do with “‘[c]ultured’ phrases [coming] out sounding stilted and hollow in my mouth” (Graff 24). However difficult it was, my choice to quit school in favor of work was necessary at the time. But then, I quit work to play. I never settled on any one path; it all seemed trite and, therefore, not worth the effort, including my second college enrollment to be a veterinary technician. Motherhood greeted me a few years later and reaffirmed my lack of knowledge. The things I thought I knew were completely changed, and the things I did not know were made perfectly clear. I did not want my son to regard me as I had viewed my mom, so I answered my beckoning conscience, started writing my manuscript, and enrolled in college once again.

My third time in college has been outstanding. Opportunities have opened up for me, beginning with the Emerging Writer’s Contest. With a bit of luck, I saw the flyer for the contest and entered it. Upon getting second place in the fiction category, I realized that a “first place” manuscript required a deeper understanding of writing, so I started researching. I knew that effort corresponded to success when I made the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and the President’s Scholar standing. I became aware that the “primary reason for my success in the classroom was that . . . schooling was changing me and separating me from the life I enjoyed before” (Rodriguez 17).
Listening to my calling to be a writer and finally following my dreams brought back the excitement I once had about school and education, and I felt “a sense of personal engagement that I had not felt before” (Graff 25). As I continue to strive for excellence, I revisit my lessons in literacy and cherish the time I spent learning them, for they have made me the reader and writer I am today.

Works Cited

Graff, Gerald. “Disliking Books.” From Inquiry to Academic Writing. Ed. Stuart Greene and April Lidinsky. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2012. 22-26. Print.
Lawrence, Tracy. “Lessons Learned.” Lessons Learned. By Paul Nelson, Larry Boone and Tracy Lawrence. Prod. Flip Anderson, Tracy Lawrence and Butch Carr. Atlantic Records, 2000. Compact Disc.
Rodriguez, Richard. “Scholarship Boy.” From Inquiry to Academic Writing. Ed. Stuart Greene and April Lidinsky. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2012. 15-22. Print.

8 thoughts on “Literacy Lessons Learned”

  1. Nice overview of your reading/writing life! I loved the part about the barn animals and their sounds. Everyone’s story is so unique. I really think there is something true to the notion that some of us are just “born” with the gift! Great story 🙂

    1. Thank you, Katherine. I’m glad you liked it. Yes, I agree–everyone’s story is unique and some are just born with the gift. That’s why I love reading other writer’s/author’s work. Many times it is very enlightening. 🙂

  2. What a wonderful reflection on your path to literacy and writing! I enjoyed reading it. I wish more people had grandmothers like yours to instill a love of the written word.

  3. Coming across this is something I consider to be a bit lucky. I was sitting here contemplating whether to continue with my next English course in January. I am seriously considering whether to focus on getting my work published or honing my craft (via theory coursework). I know my path will always lead back to this moment – and i’m really glad that you shared your own journey.

    1. This is fantastic; I’m thrilled to have had such an impact in someone’s life. I encourage you to set goals and follow your dreams–I did, and that has made all the difference. Thank you for sharing your experience as well. Good luck to you!

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