I never expected to become a teacher, never lined up my dolls (not that I had many dolls), stuffed animals (well, except for an owl or two, and I was not trying to teach them anything) or younger siblings (my brother was not very cooperative) in order to “play school.” And I certainly refused to “play school” with my friends. School was no fun at all. As soon as I figured out how to read, I decided I’d learned everything I really needed to know. By the end of second grade, I had gone on a homework strike that lasted a good seven or eight years. College straight out of high school was out of the question.
Even after I got a little older, even after it became clear that it would be easier to earn a living with a degree, college never quite worked for me. Life, in the form of marriages, children, and that earning a living thing, kept getting in the way.
It took falling in love with storytelling to land me in a most unexpected place – as an instructor at a community college. When I first enrolled at South Mountain Community College in Phoenix, I planned to acquire an Academic Certificate in Storytelling. I figured that would teach me what I needed to know and I’d be on my way. Once again, life happened. I became aware that I could teach at the Storytelling Institute, if I had a master’s degree.
Umm, I didn’t even have a bachelor’s degree.
That, it seemed, could be fixed. The next few years turned into a flurry of classes and graduations. Academic Certificate, AA, Bachelor’s and finally a Masters in Humanity from Prescott College.
But when I first stepped into a classroom as an instructor, I had the feeling that my journey through higher education had taught me nothing at all about how to teach. There we were, twenty community college students and I, and what was I going to say to them?
It occurred to me that each and every one of them had a story that was, in one way or another, a lot like mine. Some of them had not done well in school. Some of them had been distracted by life and were trying to catch up. Some of them were valiantly trying to do their best in the face of circumstances far more challenging than my homework strike had ever been.
They all seemed to think I was in my natural habitat. I wasn’t, so I told them a story. My story. It’s something I have been doing ever since. As well as my story, I tell folktales, myths, legends, almost every class session, no matter what the official subject.
Heck, I’d even tell stories if I were teaching math!
Because this is what I’ve learned, both through my own experience and what I have learned from others: listening to oral stories together creates a community. And I, as a teller, am part of the community I create in my classrooms.
As an instructor, I have the content, and content is important. As a storyteller, I know that community is just as important.
Have you built communities with stories? I’d love to hear from you.
Harriet has told stories at the Phoenix Fringe and at the Gila Bend Shrimp Festivals. She’s taken part in the AZStorytellers Project and in StoryRise events. As an instructor at the South Mountain Community College Storytelling Institute, she has performed in many events including the La Lloronathon and a number of Myth Informed concerts.