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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Robin G's picture

This is a wonderful topic to discuss. I teach middle school students with mild intellectual disabilities, I find that the majority of concepts that I teach can only be related if I can tell a story about how it relates to my kids. Becuase I have 5 little kids the students love to hear what new a crazy thing they have done. If I am teaching an adaptive skill or a sociable idea, using my kids is a humorous way to get the concept across. Once I can relate to my kids, they can then see how it carries over to their house/life and they have the concept and can carry it over to the curriculum. I find that my personal stories work on any of the kids I teach becuase they see that I'm not just an adult forcing usless info down their throats and that I do care about them. I say use as much personal information as possible only as it releates to a teachable concept and keep it focused on that concept. Too much information is possible, avoid it at all costs.

Perpall's picture

I also believe that sharing our experiences with our students is vital to the teacher-student relationship. Students do not want to come into a class and learn from a teacher who seems disconnected and impersonal. My students love it when I share funny stories about my personal life. It allows them to see that I have a fun and normal side, not just the strict teacher that expects them to "be perfect". I absolutely love it when my students run up to me full of excitement to share something from their personal life... They would not feel the comfort and connection with me if I didn't share with them as well. They are "in the loop" when my son is not feeling well and they feel as though our class is a family. My students respect me and want to do their best because they feel a personal connection with me and the other classmates.

Jason's picture

I agree Kelly. Personal experiences can be very powerful when the suit what is being discussed in the classroom. If you are not relating to the students I believe you are teaching at a level below where it could be. I find that many times sharing how you learned the same topic or actually showing a student your work can really be beneficial. As you alluded to, we don't live in secret closets in our rooms, we have experiences that students can benefit from.

Theresa's picture

How old are the students you teach? I agree. If your students repect you as a person the rest comes a lot easier.

Robin G's picture

africano, I agree with you. My first year teaching I was pregnant and unmarried for the first few months. It was not a topic that I discussed in my class nor with the kids. At the time I was teaching Deaf and Hard of Hearing students and being that they pay attention to everything. They started talking amongst themselves that they didn't see a ring and that I was VERY large. Eventually, it came around to me that they were talking about it and I had to explain that I was about to be married and other than that, it was none of their business. They were good with that, certain parents weren't, but they had religious beliefs that alowed them to look down at me. The other 2 teachers that I worked with at the time agreed that really it was a good example that it showed that I did get married and "did what was right" acording to certain peoples opinion.

Regina J's picture


I believe that incorporating our own personal experiences into a lesson makes the lesson more impressionable on our students. Students will more likely to receptive when they attach a real life experience to the lesson. With this being said I think its equally important to make sure that what you share is appropriate based on the experience, age, and maturity of the students being taught.

Laura Meyer's picture

I think it is important to make what you are teaching relevant to your surrounding area. On the other hand, I feel it is important that students receive all sorts of experiences in the classroom. This will make them a more well rounded individual. I think the more relevant the topic to a student the more they will get out of it and remember it down the road. Teaching a child in IL about the tropical rain forest is interesting and necessary, but won't be as interesting as teaching them about farming techniques from long ago. It's all about making a connection to their lives and making it relevant and interesting.

Laura Meyer's picture


I agree with you when you say that we have to apply our own personal experiences in our classroom to form a good connection with our students. They want us to be good teachers, but they also want us to be human. They love being able to hear stories about our lives. Sometimes it is hard for them to realize that we are people outside of the school and classroom. I really feel it is important to make connections on a more personal level. We want them to respect us not only as teachers, but as human beings as well.

Nikita Hernandez's picture

Andrea, I think it's a great idea to use your personal experience in your lesson plans. It's a great way to model your lesson and for your students to get to know you better. Just make sure your experience that your sharing with them is appropriate. Plus it helps the students learn how to connect their personal experiences with the lessons that your are teaching them and how to be open.

island teacher's picture

Barry, I liked your comment. I taught on an island and would just like to add that, with all of the talk we give about making experiences real, teaching about snow doesn't have to be difficult: shave some ice and then explain this is what is falling instead of rain (that would be particularly true for where I am from). Any time we can immerse students in a real experience, we can be sure they will get the point. I'm sure you do as much of the same as possible when teaching about ancient cultures. Tie it into something they know.

The same holds true for personal experiences. The only difference is, students cannot always relate to our personal experiences the way they can relate to their own. For example, I can share my experience with snow, but that will only go so far. I need to make the experience personal to them.

As far as when we cross the line, obviously certain personal issues are private and cross the line of ethics, but, in general, I would say that when our experience will not really connect to theirs, it has little significance, anyway. When it does, as long as it doesn't violate the ethics of our position, it can play a vital role. As in Kelly's example, if their personal experience can't make it real for them but ours can, then understanding is only one of the benefits. Relational connections are icing on the cake.

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