Saturday, December 08, 2007

Teaching is about telling stories

Yesterday, we held a function at the school for retiring teachers. What impressed me the most was that these teachers did not dwell on their achievements and the leadership roles that they occupied. Instead, they spoke at length about the human connections they had made with students and peers. One of these teachers, a fan of the classics, said: "teaching is about story telling. I believe even Maths teachers should be story tellers."

Yesterday was also the last day of school for our students. My year 7s started quoting back to me stories and jokes I had told them about Mathematics. It was both interesting and surprising to see what had stuck in their minds.

I remember my dad telling me stories on the way to school every morning. Many of these were Gospel parables or lives of saints. Others were simply drawn from daily life.

In a class on Theology during my teaching diploma at the Australian Catholic University, a student started discussing the merits of teaching parables to children. She insisted on the use of a simple translation, making sure everything was clear and maybe even skipping the Gospel stories altogether. Children these days will not relate to the contexts used by Jesus when he told the parables. Why not paraphrase the stories and present modern parables instead of the originals?

I took issue with the idea of replacing the original parables. I suggested that the stories themselves had formative value regardless of how much the child understood of them. I advocated reading the stories in a translation that uses beautiful English. The meaning and the words would grow on the students over the years. Everything does not need to be immediately relevant or even accessible.

Needless to say, I was ridiculed by my peer who accused me of expecting students to be interested in the Good Samaritan while "all they can think about is drugs and sex."

I still remember many of the stories that my dad told me. I hope that my children will one day remember the stories I tell them. I also hope that I can be a good story teller to my students, whether teaching Maths or IT.

Merry Christmas to all.

Elias.

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