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Editorial: Feb. 8 – Tell your story

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File Photo

I was reading a textbook the other day. Big surprise, I know.

It was a text for my senior seminar in English education, and I was not looking forward to the chapters. Education textbooks have a (understandable) problem: almost everything they say has little application to the real world of teaching.

The suggestions they give aren’t plausible or realistic. They want you to think about theory and analyze each student according to Piaget’s stages of development. They want lesson plans labeled with Bloom’s taxonomy, and they assume students who sit in silent reverence of all-powerful, infallible teachers.

A real classroom is noisy. Teachers think about reaching objectives and analyze students according to facial expressions. They plan on the fly and go with the flow.

I get frustrated with these textbooks, and I found more of the same when I opened to chapter two. The material was dry. As he tried to toss a huge net around the topic of English education, the author moved further and further into the realm of the abstract, littering sentences with words like synthesize, collaborate, effectiveness, and integrate.

I made a couple of notes, then moved on as fast as I could to the next chapter. But only two paragraphs into that one, I was suddenly hooked. The author began telling personal stories about his time as a teacher.

He walked me through the August preparation for the school year and shared his excitement for each new year. There were diagrams of classroom layouts with explanations of why they worked.

The passion I had for teaching, doused by the theory of chapter two, was rekindled. The author shared his delight in watching students enter the room, as well his excitement each June when he thought about revising lessons based on the past year’s experiences. Through the minutiae of his narrative, I was inspired.

It’s that way with so many things. Our eyes skim over textbook sections full of theorems and technical words, but latch onto stories or examples or diagrams.

Any good preacher knows that a sermon has to have stories and examples — we can only listen to so much deep theology. A class period where the professor only lectures is generally dull, and we long to hear our classmates’ opinions or experiences.

I’m always looking to learn new things, but I want to hear the story.

A story carries power. What I want to know about almost any given subject is how my teacher, the person I’m learning from, feels about it. Call me uber-emotional or an off-the-charts “F” on the Myers-Briggs, but it’s true.

I just won’t be very interested in what you’re saying if you ramble a bunch of facts at me. The topic is probably unfamiliar, so I need some context, a spark that draws me in.

“I here make a rule,” writes John Steinbeck in his piece de resistance, “East of Eden.” “A great and lasting story is about everyone or it will not last. The strange and foreign is not interesting — only the deeply personal and familiar.” Connect your topic to my life, and I’m with you all the way.

Learn to tell your story. It could be about anything — your major, your internship, your favorite video game, your fascination with the huge colonies of bats living in caves in South America, the way that light creeps sleepily across the honey-brown wood floor of your bedroom. Let me enter your world.

Our universe is so ever-expanding that we sometimes worry about things getting lost. The liberal arts are always in danger, and many wonder why some of us college kids choose to learn about such vast and diffuse subjects.

I’d venture to say that it’s because we love the stories that come with knowledge. But unless we all learn to tell our stories, it will be difficult to share our passions.

Be better than chapter two. Find a way to communicate what you love with the people you love. It might be a piece of writing — a well-crafted email or blog post. It might be a video — a day in the life production. It might be a poem — a series of images that describe your place in the world.

Then, share it with others. Post it on Facebook, send it to Chimes or Dialogue, to Calvin’s News and Stories. Share it with professors or classmates or grandparents.

Arguably one of our generation’s greatest storytellers, J.K. Rowling tells it like it is: “There’s always room for a story that can transport people to another place.”

About the Author

Abby Zwart

Abby Zwart is the editor in chief of Chimes for the 2012-13 school year. She is a senior secondary education and English major. This is her fourth year on Chimes staff and second as editor in chief.

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