Rock overcomes difficulties to become successful educator
MUSKOGEE – As the winner of its second Seven Feathers Award for education, the Cherokee Phoenix has selected Cherokee Nation citizen Joyce Rock of Muskogee.
Rock, 65, has spent her career in teaching after earning her undergraduate degree in 1983. She was a math teacher for Hilldale Public Schools in Muskogee for 15 years. She then earned a master’s degree in bilingual education and school administration before directing the Cherokee language and culture program at Gore. Her work included helping teachers recognize ways in which students learn, particularly Native students. In 2013, she was named New Mexico’s principal of the year for her work on the Navajo reservation. Since returning to Oklahoma, she has been a specialist for the Office of School Support within the Oklahoma State Department of Education, helping lower performing schools improve.
“From high school dropout to high school math teacher, to curriculum director, to high school principal, to school support specialist at the Oklahoma State Department of Education – this is definitely not a path I envisioned walking as I was growing up,” Rock said. “But it is a path I am so very grateful to have traveled.”
Her upbringing was not an experience of consistency. She bounced from school to school before finding herself becoming a teenage mother.
“My school days were fairly chaotic,” she said. “I attended 17 different schools, some of them several different times, before I dropped out of high school when I was 16. The idea of going to college never once entered my mind.”
Rock was caught in a “cycle of poverty” that is difficult to disrupt and can span generations. However, she was the first member of her family to attend college, let alone graduate. With her perseverance, she broke the cycle in her family. Her children are also college graduates and immersed in careers. In 2019, the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy honored Rock with its Laura Choate Resilience Award, which recognizes those who overcome difficult beginnings and dedicate themselves to helping children.
As a dropout, Rock did not make a beeline for college. She cites “divine intervention” for her success as she traveled a career route that was not pre-planned or followed meticulously.
“There were some individuals that were put into my life at strategic points who set me on this path,” she said. “The first of these individuals was ‘Donna’ – the owner of a day care where I was working when I was 22 years old. She encouraged me to start taking college classes at Claremore Junior College (now Rogers State University) and let me arrange my work schedule around the college classes. The second person who guided me on my path was ‘Mr. Reynolds,’ a math teacher at Claremore Junior College. He saw my aptitude for mathematics and encouraged me to go into math education. After teaching math for 15 years, I met Dr. Phyllis Fife at Northeastern State University and she helped me enroll in a program in school administration and bilingual education.”
Rock said the encouragement she received was indispensable, and the list of people to whom she felt gratitude was long. “There have been many others, but none as important as my husband of 48 years, Calvin. He was always there saying, ‘Joyce, you can do this.’ Whenever I was discouraged, Calvin would not let me give up. In 2008, when there was an opportunity to go and work on the Navajo reservation – something I had dreamed of doing for years – he said, ‘Let’s do it.’ He has always been my greatest cheerleader.”
She said her kids were also supportive, to the point of tolerating her tests of educational ideas.
“I would also like to thank my children, Lynett and Jimmy, for being the Guinea pigs whenever I was thinking about trying new things in my classroom, and for giving me their support as I spread my wings a little after they graduated high school,” Rock said.
She said being an educator is her perfect job. “It has provided me with amazing opportunities and great adventures. I encourage every young person to consider becoming a teacher. It is the best job in the whole world.”