Day 52: Melissa, English teacher, Middle and Upper School

[ By on November 30, 2012 ]

“It’s the kids, right?” folks chime in smiling as I flounder while trying to explain what I love about teaching. And, yes, of course, the kids are a significant part of it, but just saying “it’s the kids” doesn’t capture the reason. Today, while we, my ninth graders and I, prepared to start sinking our teeth into Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, I was able to put my finger on what had previously evaded me. Before leaping into O’Brien’s masterful work on war and storytelling, I wanted my students to reflect on why we tell stories in the first place. I asked them to ruminate during a few minutes of quiet writing at the beginning of class on the purpose and function of storytelling — both from the perspective of the teller and the listener. What started out as an exercise to get the pumps primed instead became period-long hash out. We tell stories to find meaning, they said, to find a community, to feel known, to apologize, to cleanse our souls. As you see, the kids are a part of it, literally, but it’s the experience, that give and take – the collective desire to dive into the thick of these issues that are so central to our existence while nestled in our second floor classroom with the leaf-bare trees rustling on the other side – that makes me love the work I do. Later, tonight or sometime this weekend, when chatting with a friend, I’ll undoubtedly hear some story, a well spun one if I’m lucky, about said friend’s workday tribulations, and I will inwardly smile as I think back to our investigation of why we tell stories. Most likely I’ll miss some of my friend’s tale as I think back on those earnest discussions from Friday morning. And that’s just fine.

Melissa is an English teacher at Riverdale. She likes tea and biscuits, reading under palm trees, and walking her dog Ozymandias (Ozzie to those who know and love him) in Central Park.

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