I’m back from Lithuania where I taught a storytelling class to two classes of Lithuanian public school teachers. The classes included how to use writing and telling stories as a teaching method in the classroom and how writing and telling personal stories can be interesting outside the classroom too.
It was amazing. I heard people tell interesting, funny, sad and sweet stories. They were the same and different than U.S. stories, but more the same than different. The country was beautiful, with sweeping countryside planted with colorful crops and forests of tall, super green trees. I met interesting and inspiring people: professors, world travelers, talented teachers, business people and an ambassador. The youngest was in High School and the oldest were retired. There were Lithuanians, Americans of Lithuanian heritage and people just plain interested in Lithuania. There were no normal days. I often didn’t know what the schedule would be, when/what we would be eating or if what I thought I knew would change at the last minute. My mental auto-pilot functions were useless. I had to be aware and engaged at all times. It was exciting and exhausting.
It was challenging. My first class was large and easy going. We had a public performance at the end of the week, with a reception after. We shared gifts, snacks and champagne. Well, then, about my second class… Have you ever tried to teach a brand new class to adults, a class that is very language and culture centric, when you don’t know the language or the culture of the students? Have you ever had the name of your class be translated from “Storytelling” to “Development of Linguistic Competencies,” so some of the students are mad that you don’t know a damn thing about linguistics? Have you ever really blown a demo about finding class-related stories on the Internet, so that the students think you are trying to introduce them to the Internet for the first time, so they think that you think they are stupid? Have you been in a class where mutiny was brewing and just about to explode?
One student said that the practice of writing and telling stories isn’t academic and they have to focus on preparing for government tests.
I said that learning to write stories is the same type of work as learning to write an essay or technical paper, giving students focused practice with vocabulary, grammar and writing for a specific purpose. But, students are uniquely motivated when the topic is their own experience and when they have to tell the story in front of their peers.
One student said an adult shouldn’t be writing stories unless they are a writing professor, with proper credentials.
I said there are different kinds of music, from the solo performer in the country’s finest opera house to the family singing folks songs around a campfire. There is a time and place to play all kinds of music and to tell all kinds of stories.
One student said that if students are reading or listening to stories, the stories should have been written by the most accomplished writers, not less accomplished writers or other students.
I said, while students learn a great deal from the masters, they can learn different skills and lessons from different types of writers, including their peers.
One student said if they invited their friends over to their house to share stories, they would think they were crazy.
I said, “Why?” People have been telling stories as long as they have been able to talk. This is what my grandparents and parents did before there was TV, the Internet and smart phones. And, now, especially because of all the modern technology, it is especially sweet to hear someone’s personal story, in person.
It was rewarding. We worked through the difficulty of our different perspectives. I told them I was sorry about the incorrect title of the class, but this is was the class that I had. They said they didn’t want to perform their stories for guests, so we agreed to tell our stories to each other instead. I made my argument for the value of reading, writing, listening to and telling Stories, inside the classroom and out. I believe some of them will try it, but I’ll probably never know.
On the last day of each class, we shared our stories. The stories were more the same than different. There were themes of remembering to appreciate the important things in life, the trouble with finding enough time for yourself and trying to manage a difficult kids. Does that sound familiar? 🙂 But they were different too. One story was about being a little girl during the second Soviet occupation, when her family was so poor that the clean, white table cloth in a ‘rich’ person’s house made her cry, it was so beautiful.
After our private performance for the second class, we shared champagne and treats. Then my most vocal opponent, my nemesis, gave me a gift she had made herself. It was a shawl made of fine, white thread knitted into a delicate, lace-like pattern. She might not agree with me, but she understood what I was saying. The funny thing is, she was an amazing storyteller. She had a strong presence and her face and hands were animated and expressive when she spoke. Even if I didn’t have an interpreter translating for me, I would have enjoyed her story for the visual elements alone. And she just happened to be a very good writer too. The class wouldn’t have been as fun, challenging or rewarding without her.
Remember when y’all gave me questions for the students? Stay tuned for the next post that has all of the answers (more of less)…
Welcome to a special series on GrowingUpAustin.com, A Lithuanian Story – All the Way From Texas. I am traveled to Lithuania this summer to teach storytelling at A.P.P.L.E., an education conference that I first taught at almost twenty years ago. The new conference was full of mystery and adventure. The first conference gave me stories I have been telling ever since. So, I decided to write about the trips here. If you have just joined, here is a summary of the posts. I’ll return to writing about hiking, live music and art for Austin kids when I get back in July. Information is always available at AustinKidsHike.com (hiking), AustinKidsDance.com (live music) and AustinKidsDraw.com (art).