*I wrote this post for Cori after reading some of her beautiful posts about stories like, “Attending to the Messy Ones“, “Indifference to Stories” and “Stories to Live By (Stories to Leave By)“, and from part of a conversation on Twitter. I wanted to share that post here as well, in my own space. Over the past little while, the words I wrote have come to mean much more to me, then when I first wrote it.
We all have a story. It deserves to be told.
They have different meanings and different forms during our lives.
But each is important.
“There’s magic in that. It’s in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict. From the mundane to the profound. You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift.” – Erin Morgenstern
We begin by hearing stories.
Since we were little kids, most of us have had the pleasure of being read to whether at home, in a school or a similar setting. Books in classrooms, bedtime stories, and novels read for enjoyment and lead to kids using their imagination to grow, learn, explore and ultimately create their own stories. As they grow, stories become a part of who they are; they show who they have been and play a role in who the person they will become.
Have you ever had the pleasure of sitting down with a young child around the age of 3-5 years old? Maybe it was a friend’s child, your own son or daughter or a young student. If you have, I’m sure that once you started interacting with them, they were able to tell you a fascinating tale or two.
I can remember feeling simply captivated and intrigued by sitting on a blanket in the middle of the floor with my friend’s 4 year old son. I simply listened to him. He took us on an adventure, one where we were in the middle of the ocean, travelling to a distant island. Upon arrival we found animals and new friends. We stayed and played for what seemed like hours. This story he created came alive in the form of play.
As one continues to grow up, we are constantly reading are creating stories all around us. Our lives further grow in story. Just as we have grown up hearing about our grandparents and parents lives, and what they have gone through growing up. Now, we too continue journeying through our own and sharing with others. But we also have our own personal stories. Stories about things that cause us to wonder, things that we struggle with, things that are important to us and events that have helped create the very person we are. Sometimes we share these personal stories, our narratives with those around us. But too often, we keep them hidden deep inside us, deep inside our hearts. These are the stories that need to be told and shared, the words me must find the courage to share with others because they are important.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you” – Maya Angelou
In schools and classrooms, students come to us as they are. Much of a child’s time is spent in a classroom with teachers and their peers.
They bring with them attitudes and happiness, sadness, anger, fear and they bring with them their stories.
People in the role of a teacher can choose to listen. They can choose to engage in discussion and create a room, an atmosphere where everyone is able to share and talk, learn and grow. A place where children gather needs to be a safe space, one where they feel supported and accepted, and free to share what is on their mind, free to share their stories.
These learning spaces are not just for learning that comes from curriculum guides, lists of required skills and abilities and learning materials. In these spaces things are taught and learnt that aren’t always stated in guides and requirements. Empathy, relationship skills, trust, support, communication skills, the power of sharing and the power of caring also happen in learning spaces. They should happen in learning spaces and come somewhat naturally in a classroom, where they aren’t just facilitated by teachers, but led by students. Too often, I think that some teachers are focused on pushing through the curriculum guides and they may forget to take some time for these things to happen with and for their students.
When sharing starts to happen, some stories will be hard to understand. They will convey pain and hardship that is unique to the storyteller. Other stories will be happy and joyous. The good and the bad make up the storyteller. All of their stories need to have a voice put to them, and they both equally need to be shared.
“Stories make us more alive, more human, more courageous, more loving.” – Madeline L’Engle
It’s okay to sit alongside your students and learn with them, discuss and share with them. Sometimes a teacher needs to step out of the role as a “teacher – the one more than often is seen as having power within the classroom”. This can be done by simply sharing a story or a part of your story with the students, encouraging discussion and letting them know that they are not alone and that we are in a space that honors story. It can also be done by letting students have a journal where they are free to write about what ever is on their mind and not just required writing prompts. It can be kept private or it can be shared with the class and others. This is also one way to record our thoughts and our stories, and to put into words our experiences and feelings.
I recently came across this article: Teacher reveals secrets to reach out to students, complete with a video. [http://montreal.ctvnews.ca/teacher-reveals-secrets-to-reach-out-to-students-1.1129684] In the article, Catherine tells her students and all kids out there that “teachers are there to help, teachers are there to listen. People often forget that teachers are not just passionate about their subject, they are passionate about their students.” I agree with her. She has let kids know that it is okay to share, to discuss and to ask for help if that’s what they need.
“We are our stories – it was that kids were heard, it was the space for story, not me” – @corisaas
“Closed-up in classroom scoring. Get this text, “I would have never been able to get through school if it wasnt for you.” #beathless” – @corisaas
Cori has had her own experiences in her classroom/learning space and with her own students. Reading her blog posts and tweets, this is evident. In many ways, I have been that student in that text message. Now, I hope to be the kind of teacher like Cori and to have my own classroom one day where students are able to share, to talk, to discuss, and where we can keep our stories going.
I don’t think I would have been able to make it through high school with out the support of my music /choir teacher and guidance counselor. Things were much different, but still like they are today. I needed a space to escape the things that were going on. I needed a space where I could share what was going on and where I could talk with someone who would not judge. Many times there were thoughts of giving up. But thanks to those two ladies, I made it through it. Not all teachers were as willing to help me through this. I had an English teacher so focused on moving a head in the course that she completely ignored me and the visible signs that something was going on, that something was wrong. I don’t expect all teachers to be open to sharing and helping, but they should be aware.
Again in University, things changed from good to the same as before, but were worse. To make a long story short, the university counseling services got involved. I talked with a few people and they were mainly helping me from a psychology point of view. They did help. But I found more help from one of my university professors. We spent time walking around campus and talking, her listening, sharing and offering support. Without her, I don’t think I would have made it through the education program because I simply did not see the point of going on. She let me tell my story and let me put a voice to what was happening.
In both of these times, I was being heard and that mattered so much.
Since then, I keep trying to move forward, but there are times when I go backwards. One thing that has made me go on has been working with students, in internship and now through subbing. Any time I get to talk with them and simply listen to them is a wonderful experience. I let them tell me about their story and it is truly an honor to be able to listen. Whether it is a student telling me about the new dog she’s getting and later shared it with the class, which led her to start to blossom socially in the class, or the boy who told me about his family, and how he cherishes and cares for his parents so much. All of their stories are worth hearing and sharing, not just with me but with all of us.
It may not seem like it, but it makes a big difference when our voices, and our stories are shared and heard.
“Perhaps it is how we are made; perhaps words of truth reach us best through the hear, and stories and songs are the language of the heart.” – Stephen R. Lawhead
*The other day my story almost ended. It wasn’t yet time for it to end. I’m glad it did not end. Now I have the chance to share my story and to make myself strong so that I can listen to others and share with them.