This I Believe

Thomasine - Richmond, Virginia
Entered on October 10, 2006

Everyone Has a Story To Tell

At the beginning of every school year, or every new semester, there is an opening statement I make to the fresh, new faces I stand before, from middle-school students to senior citizens. “I believe that everyone has a story to tell. Even if you are an identical twin, raised in the same house every day for all of your life with your double, you each have your own individual story to tell. No matter who you are, where you grew up or how you grew up, you have your own unique story to tell. I am here to help you learn to tell your story.” I say it; mean it, and I believe it.

. While I was in college, I made extra money by writing poems for people who didn’t quite know how to express themselves. Those corny lyrics I wrote would make me laugh and sometimes-even cringe, they were so bad, but I needed the money, so I earned it by writing. When my financial situation deteriorated, and it looked like I would have to trade college for work, I applied for a grant that demanded I be a teacher for five years. I decided I could do this. I had plenty of time to stretch my writing muscles. Five years wasn’t such at long time.

My second year of teaching, I realized it would be a lifelong commitment, not a five-year sentence. A summer writing course for teachers had awakened all the feelings I had when I started writing as a teenager, and I couldn’t wait to try my new teaching strategies on my middle school students. What I didn’t bargain on was finding middle school students who were so much smarter and more expressive than I ever could be, but who had never been encouraged to write. They had, in fact, been discouraged because their spelling wasn’t perfect or their teacher didn’t know what to make of the things they said.

They were vocational students, back in the age of student tracking, and everyone knew vocational students were good at working with their hands. Everyone knew writing was not their strong suit. Everyone knew, except them… and me. I was only twenty-one years old, foolish enough to think they could write, and they did. Some wrote just to impress me, and some wrote for shock value, but they all wrote. Some students were pretty graphic, even for the times, and it scared some teachers. I simply marveled at the looks on their faces when they produced some writing that was good. Twenty-eight years later, I still marvel.

Times have changed, I have changed, students have changed many times, and technology has made writing very different. I have taught writing to students that range in age from thirteen to sixty, but that look, the look of amazement and discovery is the same on all the faces of students who, for the first time, realize that everyone does have a unique story to tell. I believe I have been blessed with the privilege of helping them learn to tell their stories.