Tell True Stories About You

Hi and welcome back to Attention-ology for K – 5 Teachers!

Have you ever had the experience of bumping into one of your elementary school students away from school – let’s say at a local store, for example – when the student didn’t recognize you? Some children have trouble seeing teachers as people with lives outside of their classroom walls. Why? 

One of the reasons may be that educators are restrained from showing our personal sides – restrained by professional codes of conduct, time restrained, curriculum-driven, over-worked (and many would say underpaid). When we and our students share the same space we are usually at center stage in the classroom, not shopping alone or with families of our own.

So, here’s a question to consider…can we enhance our positive impact on K – 5 students by bringing our personal selves into our professional settings? That is, of course, in ways that conform to codes of conduct we’re expected to honor.

I believe that the answer is YES – a carefully controlled YES – but a definite YES! One way to make our personal selves known to our students is by telling true stories about ourselves – at thoughtfully chosen times and with specific intent.

For example, when I introduce a writing assignment that challenges children to plan and draft a personal narrative – a story about something that actually happened to them in their (short) lives, I promise to share a story that’s true about me to help them get ready to write. One story I share is titled, Tell Me Again, Mom. It’s the true story of my daughter’s adoption. The fourth graders who hear this story each year really enjoy it. I know so because my narrative generates a lot of questions and more importantly, some excellent student writing.

Other teachers have endorsed this teaching strategy, too. One fourth grade teacher I’ve worked with for several years told me of the story she tells her class about how she hated to read until she turned age ten. That was when her fifth grade teacher at the time invited her to dramatize different storybook characters from books assigned. The freedom this teacher felt in bringing characters to life, she says, sparked her love of reading, a love that continues to this day. This gifted fourth grade teacher delights in telling this personal story just before she begins chapter book reading aloud at the outset of each school year.

Telling true stories brings me to a deeply personal moment this week…I just returned from a memorial service to celebrate the life of my mother; she died earlier this month after a long battle with emphysema.

Remembering My Mother


Other members of my family and I offered “remembrances” during the service, and as I wrote mine I was reminded that my mother’s love of knowledge and the fun she had with words were the early foundations for my career as a professional writer and teacher. A part of my remembrance…

A week or so after my mother died I was looking through her desk. I re-read a piece of my own writing that Mom had kept. It’s titled, Oh, the Meaning of Mother! It’s based on definitions in the Illustrated Oxford Dictionary, a new edition I’d bought with some birthday money from Mom. The edited version is, I think a suitable tribute to my mother. I know it’s filled with love…

In the Illustrated Oxford Dictionary

you’ll find Mother just after moth-eaten,

How biting…moth-eaten means damaged and time-worn,

but Mother endures!

Count the dictionary definitions…

a quality or condition giving rise to another,

as in Necessity is the mother of invention.

How inventive was the life of my mother!

All mothers are connected through seasons of life

to the tides of mother earth,

to the binds of mother country,

to the bidding of mother figures.

Oxford calls older women sources of nurture and support.

The dictionary definitions of mother end with mother wit

and common sense,

For my mother, that’s a perfect fit!

Not all K – 5 teachers are mothers or fathers to their own children, but when we share our personal stories with students who sit before us day after day, we invite them into our lives almost as if they were part of our family…and they usually respond with love and respect. That’s why telling true stories about you can be an effective way to catch and keep your K – 5 kids’ attention.

Remember, you don’t need to be a magician to work magic in instructional settings!

Talk with you next week,

Barbara The Lovable Poet

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