Choose your stories carefully – inspire or expire!

Teachers who share their own life stories with students find a special way into the hearts and minds of their pupils. Such stories bridge the mental and emotional gaps between the teacher and his/her students, making teaching/learning highly engaging.

However, teachers need to be selective of the kind of stories they share. There are times when teachers spontaneously recollect and share a personal story – this is an exception, and may not happen all the time. Otherwise, teachers need to be deliberate in their choice of stories shared in the classroom, during lessons.

There are two types of stories that teachers usually share with students. One is highly recommended and significantly impact students’ attitude toward learning and consequently, academic achievement. The other, is to be avoided at all costs.

Inspiring stories

The first kind of stories, which I call inspiring personal stories, is deeply appreciated by students. Students don’t get tired listening to them. They feel positively challenged when their teachers share this type of stories. The main feature of these stories is that they do not focus on the teacher per se. Instead, they point toward important life lessons that students could use as their own guide – be it at school, work or home.

Another characteristic of this kind of stories is that they are genuine. The teacher shares them without modifying any element of the story, even if it paints a not-so-rosy picture of him/herself. The teacher is not hesitant to share these stories because of the inherent inspirational value in them. Examples:

  1. How I chose college major?
  2. What did I do to pay for tuition?
  3. My first ‘F’ grade
  4. What my friends taught me about failing in love
  5. Peer pressure and how it affected me
  6. My favorite subject and why
  7. How I found out that looks are indeed deceiving
  8. Wrong choices and their consequences
  9. My favorite teacher and why
  10. My favorite cartoon character and why
  11. My favorite book and why, etc.

While the themes of the above-mentioned stories seem to be pointing to the teacher, in reality, they do not. The stories are only a means to an end – the aim of the stories is not to glorify the teacher and his/her life experiences; rather, they are meant to serve as lessons that would better students’ own choices and consequently, quality of life, even at the cost of admitting that teachers are humans who constantly undergo ups-and-downs.

Look-at-how-good-I-am stories

The second type of stories, which students get bored of hearing, are what I call, Look-at-how-good-I-am stories. These stories are meant to glorify the teacher, with no apparent, values-based lessons for students. They are often told to kill time and to show off, consequently creating a wider rift between the teacher and students.

Some students wonder why their teachers share such stories as they serve neither instructional purpose, nor entertain them. Often, these stories tend to repeat themselves over and over again until students know exactly what the teacher was going to say even before he/she re-tells the whole story. Psychological analysis would reveal that such stories do a good job in covering up for the teacher’s lack of honesty toward him/herself. They paint a good picture of the teacher – however students neither believe in them, nor take them seriously as they are incoherent from what they see in their teacher in reality. Examples:

  1. My pet dog and how nice, expensive and cute it is
  2. How many maids I have at home
  3. I got promotion and increase in salary
  4. My classmates are not doing as well as I am
  5. Why I was liked by my teachers
  6. My family background
  7. I had dinner with a VIP last night
  8. Why the headmaster thinks I am better than other teachers
  9. How I lost weight and am in shape
  10. My niece is Miss World 2010

One common feature among all of the above-mentioned themes is that they have no clear educational value for students – in other words, they are vain. They may be great stories, but they are not going to help bridge the mental and emotional gap between the teacher and students. As a matter of fact, they may do the opposite, very effectively.

Students do not appreciate teachers who hide behind a façade and pretend that they are infallible. Their stories and subsequent behaviors hint that they are the best role models for students. While teachers need to be role models, they should not promote themselves to be one. Students need to decide for themselves whether or not a teacher is worthy to be emulated. Hence, the most a teacher could do is to point out to other role models around them and encourage students to emulate those individual(s). In the process of doing so, many students, out of sincere appreciation for their teacher, would start emulating him/her.

Telling personal stories is important, and has its own value. However, the choice of stories shared determines the outcome. An inspirational story creates a positive classroom climate, motivates students to set greater goals and propels them to move in the direction of active learning.

On the other hand, the Look-at-how-good-I-am story serves no educational purpose and could be deemed as ineffective use of instructional time. While the former set of stories inspires students, the latter inevitably accelerates teachers’ expiry. (Note: teacher’s expiry may connote ‘becoming an unapproachable and ineffective’ teacher.)

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