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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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Anne McDonald's picture

My personal thinking about telling students that you are pregnant might have a lot to do with the age of the students, and perhaps where you work. I agree with Kimberly, that a story that can be related to a real life situation, in some instances, might be better. I recently had a young mother of a middle school age daughter tell me that she did like that one of our teachers had told her class that she was pregnant, unmarried, and who the father of her child was. I think what upset her most is that she felt that the teacher was treating the students like peers rather than just sharing a personal experience as a teacher.

Romona J.'s picture

I feel that the use of personal experiences or student experiences are valid in the classroom. I can recall making comments like "when am I ever going to use this" or "why do we have to do this." Students are better able to grasp concepts and more willing to participate when they can make a real-life connection with the content covered. Also knowing that someone else has overcome an obstacle or shared a similar experience can motivate them to achieve various goals and elicit the results desired by the teacher.

Danielle Cronin's picture

Andrea began a very good blog asking the same question I would have asked. Where is the line where being open is "too open" with your students. I open myself up to my students to gain real relationships with them. I want them to know me not the fake hide behind the classroom doors me. I am a real person and I make real mistakes. I work with jr. high kids and the coolest thing I get to do is step back and tell them that they get to make choices. They are baffled. They are not sure if that is good or bad. No teacher comes into a classroom giving them the choice. I love to share with them about some mistakes I have made, hopefully they will learn from it, but ultimately I want them to know that I am genuine and sincere in what I teach. But, where is the line that might make us too vulnerable as teachers?

Terri Brazelton's picture

I believe that teachers should use personal experiences when teaching, but I do think there should be a limit to the experiences. When I was teaching a group of 4th grade students about elapsed time, I used my situation to teach them. I lived three hours away from my home town and I wanted to go home for the holidays. I gave them the time I left home, how long it took me to stop and pump gas, and then make to my home.I also used a grocery lesson to teach about money. I brought in a few plastic food items with prices on them to help the children learn how to add money. I decided to use this particular tactic because I was in the grocery store shopping and I had a particular budget that I want to stay in.

An example of a life experience that should have had some limits on it was when I was in high school, I had a teacher tell us about her brother who had been abused and felt like he couldn't deal with his life circumstances, so he took his life. Her intentions were good but I feel that it was a bit extreme considering the fact that there were a lot of troubled teenagers. When she finished tell about her brother I was thinking to myself that I hope no one thinks it's ok to kill him or herself because life has thrown them a few curve balls. Teenagers are under a lot of peer pressure during this particular time in their lives.

Terri Brazelton's picture

I think it is important for teachers to share life experiences with their students. I do believe there should be a limit to what teachers share. It gives students the opportunity to know that teachers are human.

Cathi Hadd's picture

I also agree with sharing personal experiences. I teach in a high school and I have found that sharing real life information with them is often very beneficial because they are on the brink of becoming adults, themselves. Learning what it is like in the "real world" is a necessary survival skill for them. I have also found that telling little stories about my child, my family, or myself when I was younger allows them to be able to see me as a human being, not just an English teacher. I feel like that human connection often makes a major difference in the classroom in regards to quality of work and behavior. When kids get to know you they often want to make you proud.

I do, however, feel that there are boundries that we should establish in sharing. For instance, I think it is perfectly acceptable to share with your students that you are expecting, but definitely leave out the gory details!! No student needs to know private personal information about his or her teacher. Also, I think it is necessary to limit the amount of time you spend talking about yourself. I sometimes hear students talk about other teachers who talk too much about themselves--boring and unnecessary! My rule of thumb: would I want my teacher's child to tell him this information? Usually a good tool!

Danielle Hartranft's picture

I teach 8th grade in an urban school district and I feel that sharing personal experiences with my students is extremely beneficial. When I share personal information with them, it allows them to understand that I, also, am a real person with real feelings/emotions, and I deal with real situations as well. I have pictures of my family, friends and boyfriend in my classroom, and these pictures create great discussions with my students. I am building a relationship with my students by sharing information from my past, as well as, my current situation. This relationship allows me to connect with students on a better level. As stated by another post, better relationships with students create better behavior in the classroom. However, there are lines that I (as a professional) do not cross. My students ask personal questions such as "Have I ever drank alcohol before?" or "Do I go dancing at clubs?" I am a young teacher, but I never answer these questions truefully or answer them at all because I do not want my students to think of me as their peer.
I agree with others when they say that it depends on the area you are teaching in to determine what information you share with students. There are things that I share with my students now that students in a suburban school district might not agree with or feels that it is inappropriate. Before you share information with students, you need to get to know them, as well as, their situations and families. A lot of the situations that my students are put into are not situations that a child living in a suburban school district would understand or deal with. These situations create great discussion for my students and me. Once again, being personable to my students allows me to create relationships with them.
I recall one post being about sharing information with students about buying a house, and using information to create experiences in math class. I always try to use these types of experiences because it is something that my students are going to deal with eventually in life.

africano's picture

If we all agree that it is okay for a teacher to tell her students that she is pregnant, why is it unacceptable for a teacher to mention her marital status?

If it's acceptable for teachers who have children to wear wedding rings to work? why would it be unacceptable for a teacher who has children to profess that she is not married?

Jason's picture

I think we all agree that using personal experiences to relate topics to students is usually very beneficial. As teachers I hope most of us have enough common sense to understand where the line is and to not cross it. Most seem to agree on here, but it seems like being able to relate to students can be half the battle in getting them to want to learn, so every little bit can help.

Pat Zedrow's picture

I definitely am a strong believer in sharing personal experiences when teaching because students truly desire to observe a model adult who has lived through real life experiences that perhaps they have also lived through or maybe not even have experienced yet. As an educator, I place a high emphasis on relating to students' lives so they will be more willing and excited to share their accomplishments and connections with other people. Although teaching subject material is important, it is also crucial for students to relate what they learn to a real life event. In doing this, they are prepared to use complex thinking in their own learning.

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