“As a teacher now I make a point of sharing my personal stories as a way of connecting and building relationships with my students … My hope is that my students can feel their classroom is a safe space for sharing their unique background stories and experiences.”
—Julian Rolden in I Wish My Teacher Knew by Kyle Schwartz
The staff at my school is participating in a study of the book I Wish My Teacher Knew: How One Question Can Change Everything for Our Kids. At the first meeting, we were asked to share a quote that resonated with us.
Several lines struck me, but the ones that went deepest were of a teacher making a point to share his personal stories with his class.
I thought of how teachers create the atmosphere in their rooms; where personal stories are valued, individuals are valued. Story is where humanity meets. Where we see, understand, and feel for each other. Story is where identity and belonging begin.
I thought about teaching writing, primary grades to adults. In the end all writing is about life, about having lived, about recording images, observations, emotions. To share with others is to make an impact. As I share snippets of my life in the modeling process, it spawns questions and conversations but most of all an electric synergy in the air, as writers of all ages come to realize the power of their own stories.
Last night I was invited by a dear colleague to share some of my writing with students during their family literacy event. I brought a stack of stories written over the past few years in front of classes. After a brief description I let the students choose between memoir, realistic fiction, and fantasy for me to read aloud. I explained that while memoir is a real experience, writers also weave pieces of their real lives into fiction.
And so I read my work to the students, who opted for fantasy and fiction. I was a stranger to them in the beginning, but somewhere in the sound of my own voice reading my own words, in the sudden stillness of the young bodies seated around the foot of my chair, something changed. It wasn’t visible or tangible, but it was there. Born of curiosity, interest, empathy, rapport. I was a stranger no more after the readings when the questions came, as students wanted to know more about the characters and was I going to keep writing about them and what pieces of these stories were the ones I’d really lived.
The time grew short; I answered the questions, all the while thinking how I’d freeze these moments if I could so that I could go on watching their faces as they absorbed the words. I’d stay there always, encouraging writers to find and tell their own stories. Many lingered at the end and I knew it was, it is, it always is, the power of story, that kept them wanting more, that stirred their own thoughts, feelings, ideas, images that they, too, need to share.
I packed my bag, walked into the throng of strangers at an unfamiliar school, and didn’t feel alone.