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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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Comments (79)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Josh S's picture

I absolutely agree with many of the comments pertaining to allowing personal experiences in the classroom. Some students simply will not buy in to what a teacher has to say until they actually view them as a "real person." I learned so much more easily from the teachers that shared personal stories and experiences because it made things more interesting and it really felt like they cared about me as a person. This, in turn, made me want to try harder for them, when in fact it was really me that was reaping the benefits. The teachers who kept their lives totally private seemed far less interesting in the classroom. As adults, we have so many valuable experiences that we can share that the students can learn from.

I think teachers should know where to draw the line on sharing personal experiences. Of course sharing personal experiences should be kept totally professional. If something is too private, of course it should not be shared. Also, teachers need to be careful of setting negative norms. All stories that are shared should create positive norms for the students.

diana absatz's picture

I think this is an extraordinary topic. Is it possible to teach students without giving real-life examples? Don't we constantly ask children to make connections between the text and their real life experiences (background)? If we keep giving children information right out of textbooks, we will never give them a sense of reality. Everyday I encourage my ESOL students to do better. I encourage them by telling them that when I came to this amazing country, I did not speak one word in English. I tell them constantly that if I was able to learn a new language as an adult, they could do a much better job than me. "If I did it, you can do it too", is my favorite expression. I also lost my mother when I was a child, and I share with them how much I have missed her all of my life. I encourage them to treasure their parents and help them the most they can. We are not robots, and therefore; we need to humanize our lessons in order to reach the mind and the souls of our students.

Emily's picture
K-5 Spanish Teacher in GA

I think that within reason we should talk about our personal experiences in our classrooms. I am an elementary school Spanish teacher and find all the time that I am using real life examples in my classroom. I often tell of my experience in Costa Rica and use pictures of my family when talking about the vocabulary for family members which is part of our AKS. I think that it is important to make learning pertain to real life and show students how they are going to use Spanish for example in their everyday lives by being a role model and showing them how I use it everyday. Teachers are human and I think that it is important for students to know that yes we do go to the grocery store and live mostly just like they do.

Kimberly Riley's picture
Kimberly Riley
Second grade teacher, Loganville, Georgia

I feel that it is important to share our own personal experiences with our students. In early childhood, the students think you live at school and are shocked when they see you in a grocery store or at a restaurant. I think it is important for them to see you as a real person with real life experiences. It also opens the floor for them to share about themselves.

Mr. B's picture

I teach Health in a M.S. and I think personal experiences are very important. Of course there is a line that you can not cross (nor do I want to cross) with my subject matter. I think in my units on Alcohol, Tobacco and Drugs the positive choices I made in college and continue to make can be seen as positive one for my students. I think they can say if he can go through college and make the positive choices he did I can do it as well. I also have a few friends with substance abuse problems that my students can learn the negatives from as well. Students love stories, so why not give them real ones with real faces?

Andrea R.'s picture
Andrea R.

To Diane & Mr. B.
Your thoughts on this matter are very ineresting and I have to agree with you completely. When I started as a young teacher, there were persons older than me, who felt that telling the students about your personal experiences was a bad idea. I remember a teacher spoke of a vacation she took in an exotic place and it got the students quite excited when that place came up in History. One student went home and according to the mother, 'harassed' her constantly about going to this place. The family did not have the resources and so it was not possible. Needless to say, the mother called the school and complained that the teacher was negatively influencing her child, and indirectly making her home life miserable! The teacher was SCOLDED for her indescretion (???). Therefore, I am of the opinion that the leaders of our schools must be open minded and sensible if we are to be comfortable being ourselves and throw in that bit of reality sometimes.

Nichole's picture

I think using personal experiences is a great way to get the students more involved. Using thier personal experiences and your can make for a great discussion and get the students more involved, and into deeper thought sometimes. I think if children draw on thier personal experiences for writing assignments we are going to see more in depth writing and willingness to want to write. The students will be more descriptive if they have something else to connect to. I do think though that sometimes we can get carried away telling students to much about our personal lives. I recently had a family member ask me about it be ethical to tell students about our (teacher) personal lives. See said that one of her grandchildren came home and said that her teacher that day had told them that see was about to have a baby and that she was not married to the father yet, but when he got back from over seas that they would be getting married. I personally think that, this is too much information for small children and that they do not need to know that. If your experience has something to do with the zoo or a trip that you have taken and it pertains to the lesson or concept your are trying to teach then I say go for it, just keep some things that are more personal to your self. Only share what you feel comfotable with and what you think is right.

Kimberly Riley's picture
Kimberly Riley
Second grade teacher, Loganville, Georgia

Nicole that is too much information to share with that class. I usually just relate the story I am reading to a realife situation. They love to hear stories about my kids and family.

africano's picture

My first year teaching, I shared nothing with my students. I never even hinted at my middle name, the gender of my significant other or city of residence. However, in the years that followed, I found myself teaching students whom I would consider candidates for Bad Decision Makers Anonymous, and changed the way I viewed the sharing of personal experiences.

These students didn't always get the "straight dope" from other people in their lives. So, I decided that I should be a provider of that.
I began to "come clean" with the students when they would come to me asking questions. I began using myself as the example in many decision making discussions. I always follow the examples with my rationales for making said decisions and the possible consequences for such a decision.

I believe that the students trust me more, because they feel that I am more "real" with them than other teachers who tip-toe around issues that they want to talk about. I also believe that the students view me as more human now, because they know that I have made mistakes and I have strong feelings toward issues that are relevant in their lives. They see me as someone who has emotions and someone cares about preparing them for the "real world".

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