There is the possibility of profound transformation in telling our stories and listening to the stories of other people. This belief is at the core of why I read and write, and why I'm passionate about developing a love for reading and writing in students. Stories reach across and through our racial, ethnic, economic, linguistic, gender, and religious constructs to connect us. With each story we spin, the web of interconnectedness grows, and perhaps, if that web gets strong enough, we -- as a species -- might just make it.
I am in the business of asking for, telling, and creating stories. This is what I do with my students. I ask for their stories. I give them tools to be more effective at this job. I offer them many ways to tell their stories: visually, photographically, musically, poetically, and so on. I ask and ask.
I share stories by other people and tug students' awareness to their own transformations after reading something such as Maya Angelou's poem "Still I Rise." And then I ask for their stories again.
I also guide students in creating new stories about who they are. I have always worked with low-income, urban students of color. The dominant and official "story" (and history) of these people is not always accurate or respectful. I help students deconstruct American and world history. I help them see the stories that don't get told or that -- on the few occasions that they are presented -- are distorted and inaccurate.
And then I ask my students again to tell their stories. I compel and command them to tell their stories. I give them more tools to do so. I help them refine their tools.
I create safe spaces in the classroom where they can share their stories with one another, and then I look for venues outside of our room, school, and city. When my students begin to learn that their lives and experiences are interesting to others, when they hear strangers say, "I have never seen seventh graders do such amazing work; I never knew middle school students were capable of this," then they produce more and the quality of their work soars.
Sometimes it feels so simple, this business of teaching. Everyone wants to be heard. Just ask for stories.
I also tell my own stories, selectively and thoughtfully, but honestly. I listen and then share the ones I know they'll connect with. Especially at the beginning of the year, I need to make connections with my students.
Making these connections is one reason I teach. In my next post, I'll tell you others and ask you to share your reasons.