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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Using personal experiences when teaching.

Using personal experiences when teaching.

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How far is too far when using one's own experiences to assist in delivering a lesson? Can we for the most part keep our experiences to ourselves but still have the students 'connect' with us? I thought about these questions as I was reading an article for an assignment. Sure, we all want our children to trust us and to feel comfortable enough to open up when they have problems, but is there an invisible line we shouldn't venture accross? I look forward to your feedback.


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sherry gaines's picture

I strongly beleive that teachers need to put their own experiences into their teacching. Students need to have opportunities to better connect with you as a person and feel more comfortable in the classroom if they have a connection to their teacher. In teaching kindergarten, many of my students beleive we live and eat at school and do not ever leal. They are amazed when they see me out in the "real world" or when I tell them stories about my life and my weekend adventures. For my students, it help them "humanize" and see me as real person and their teacher. Having my students see me share my life expereinces helps them to share their experiences as well. We use many real life experiences to draw from and share in the classroom as topics for writing and using these experiences helps my students add more detail and voice into their stories! I think sharing personla experiences in the the classroom is a must!

sherry gaines's picture

I can see both sides of this debate. I am a strong beleiver of bringing in students expereinces to have them draw from in the their learning. On the other hand, it is a wonderful thing to bring new perspecives and teachong to the classroom. I think the bottom line is, what it the learning objective for lesson about a "white christmas". If it is to learn about different cultures and beleifs around the world, this might be a great topic to include. If the objective it to have students create a writing peice that shows their abilities as a writier, you may want to have studemnts write about something that has some importance to them.

Jackie's picture

I teach 6th graders and I definitely like to use my own experiences when teaching. Using my own experiences creates an authentic learning environment for the students and helps them feel like I am human. I am careful that my experiences are appropriate for the lesson I am teaching. Sometimes when I share experiences I will have students who try to steer the discussion away from the lesson, but I am usually prepared and a little redirection is all it takes.

conal wright's picture

I have always worked under the rule that you can ethically share anything about your life with your students if it will be of benefit to them in their lives. In other words, you have to have a purpose. You also have to keep in mind that anything you share about yourself will be used against you in a court of childhood. So, don't share anything that you could not handle being thrown back into your face.

Connecting with your students on every level that they can handle is vital to being an effective teacher. If you are uncomfortable, don't share. But sometimes it is important to "put our necks out" in order to make life better for our students.

Nichole Tarkanick's picture

I think that is awesome! It is great to hear that you were such an inspiration to those students. All children needs good roles models, expecially when many of them don't have them at home!

Melissa's picture

Like amy of you, I too am an elementary teacher. I teach K-5 at a title one school. I find it funny how a lot of the younger students think that we live at school and sleep in the classrooms. I find that if I bring my personal interests and experiences into my lessons, then the students who may never see the things I have seen, have a greater interest in them because I am interested in them. Plus, I feel that it allows them to see that I too am a person, and exist outside of the classroom.

With teaching ELL students, my students come to me with all sorts of experiences of their own. So I give them too an oppurtunity to share what they know and see, and will I do the same.

I think the only line that should be drawn is if the subject matter is too mature for the audience in which you are teaching. For instance, I wouldn't share a story of buying a house with a first grader. They wouldn't be able to relate. But instead I may share a story of going to a popular movie. They usually enjoy such conversations.

Deb Mcmann's picture

I think that sharing our personal experiences with students is absolutely important. Building relationships with students is one of the most important things we can do as teachers because it generally leads to more investment from students and helps us understand each other. Some have mentioned that sharing personal experiences crosses a boundary. Obviously it is important to keep things appropriate for the age of student and not to get too personal. I think its important for students to see that I am human and I think by sharing things from my life it opens the door for them to do the same.

Prem Gandhi's picture

Subject matter becomes more understandable if the practical aspect is highlighted. Students appreciate mathematics more if they find its utility in real world.
They easily grasp the concepts of %,sales-tax,discount when I talk about Big Sale at Malls.I show them the flyers from different stores.
They enjoy learning about simple-interest when they imagine about saving money and putting in some bank. I show them how I save money while making my credit card payments in time, otherwise I need to pay interest.
I think teaching through personal experience not only simplifies the learning process for students but helps them develops other skills as well.

Ashley Martin's picture

I think you will know when enough information is enough. I believe that students want to feel as though they are apart of your life, not just at school. They want to feel important to us. By telling them things about us, it makes them feel closer to us and more important. Students crave that attention from their teachers and by sharing our life stories and experiences, it makes them more comfortable in their learning environment.

Jessica Dugger's picture

Absolutely, students need to connect to us as real people. If the idea of who we are is so intangible then they why should they believe what we are saying as truth. If our personal examples will benefit a lesson and it is not too personal then it should be used. I worked at a school that was very strict on us not showing any personal pictures and there was a teacher that traveled around the world. He taught geography and he was unable to show his pictures to connect his lessons to real world. I felt this was an injustice to the students who other wise may have been more involved in learning.

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