Exactly a year ago, almost to the day, I was in Chicago at the national English teachers conference and I listened, moved and excited, to Linda Rief tell stories: stories about her family, her teaching and her fraught encounters with administrators who wanted to teach her how to work with the numbers by ‘forgetting the stories of the students’.
Afterwards I asked her to send me a copy of what she had read to us, which she kindly did. I read it every now and then, to remind me about some of the reasons I became an English teacher. Here are a couple of short quotes from her paper which was called ‘Teach Write Read’:
I want my students to understand that I am what I teach—a writer and a reader. I am writing along with them in the risky business of telling some truths about my personal life and my professional life. I know that if they write about those things that matter to them, they will make it the strongest writing they can, because they have stories, opinions, knowledge, and feelings that matter enough to them to write convincingly and compellingly.
Ursula LeGuin told us this when she said “The story—from Rumplestilskin to War and Peace is one of the basic tools of the human mind for the purpose of understanding. There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.”
I have the words of Tom Stoppard on the wall in my classroom. “Words are sacred. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones, in the right order, you can nudge the world a little.” When it comes right down to it that is what I want for my students. I want them to know their words can nudge the world a little. And I want the world to nudge them a bit.