Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Teacher Ideas: Happy Stories

Thanks to Kevin for an installment in our Teacher Ideas series. (Here is a previous piece by Kevin.)
Image by Joseph Wu Origami on Flickr

Happy Stories, by Kevin Lathrop

Many students return to school to begin a new career or to gain the education needed to progress in a field in which they’ve already trained and worked. People in the middle of their lives make the profound decision to start a new story in their lives or to change the story already begun.

For teachers, it is helpful to listen to stories students tell about their experience in New York. Even if they are only indirectly relevant to the work in the class, stories provide a way forward. Just as effective students can find opportunities for learning everywhere, a skillful teacher can discover hints about how to help in unexpected places. Listening to students is an important part of our job.

These stories are from Level 4 on Saturday. They are happy stories.

Carmen is a student who appears small and quiet - that is, until you speak to her and learn she expresses herself directly and clearly and has keen insight into the feelings of others, can put herself in their shoes and act accordingly, give help where needed, behavior I witnessed in class time and again. The happiest day in her life was when she gave birth to her daughter. It was on January 29th, 2011, in Bellevue Hospital. The experience was very hard for her because she had lost her first baby in her country, Ecuador. When she lost her first baby, it was a miscarriage. When she came here and found out she was pregnant, she was very happy, but during the first month she almost lost her baby again. She bled a little. At the hospital, they told her that she was going to lose the baby again. She stayed in the hospital for two days and they treated her. She came home and didn’t work.

Carmen gave birth to her baby at eight months and three weeks. It was a cesarean delivery. First, she tried a natural delivery. She suffered a lot; she spent one day giving birth, had a lot of pain and didn’t have energy. Then the doctor said she needed to have a cesarean operation. She gave birth that night. She heard the baby crying. She was very happy, grateful. It was the most beautiful day of her life because she had fought for her daughter. A doctor in Ecuador had told her she could never have children, but she and her daughter proved that opinion wrong. Carmen believes it was a miracle.

Gladys is the kind of student who makes you glad you went into teaching, remember what a great honor and privilege we have to work with people who give the best of themselves and inspire our best. Gladys and her brother Victor were riding in a helicopter. Gladys has a fear of heights. One summer her brother and she were in their first year in New York and had vacations at the same time. They visited many different places in New York, like the Chrysler Building, the zoo and the Empire State Building. Gladys’ brother bought tickets for a helicopter ride around New York City. She was so nervous and excited. Her body produced extra adrenaline. Her heart pumped faster, and she was sweating. Her legs were shaking. Her brother asked her, “Are you okay?” Gladys replied, “No, I’m not okay.”

Victor suggested, “Close your eyes and breathe deeply in and out.” The pilot saw Gladys and said, “Calm down. You will survive.” Then her brother said, “Open your eyes.”

When Gladys opened her eyes, she saw a beautiful view: blue river, high buildings and Yankee Stadium. When the helicopter landed, the pilot knelt down before Gladys and chanted, “You survived! You survived!” Gladys felt great because she had faced her fear and overcome. She thanked her brother for his help.

Gina has an original and bold sense of humor and imagination that draws the class into focus and makes lesson creation collaborative, as it should be. Gina said that for her story you have to close your eyes and open your imagination. One day Gina went to Boston and saw all the historical sites, the Statehouse and others. When she was at the Statehouse, she went to the souvenir shop. She asked the cashier about how to get to the boat called the U.S. constitution. The cashier she should walk on the Freedom Trail, which was connected to other tourist places. Gina said she didn’t have time, but the cashier said she could take neither the bus nor the subway; walking was the only possibility. Gina set off on foot. One hour passed, then two. After all that walking, Gina suddenly realized she didn’t have her wallet (need for water on that hot afternoon had caused her to check her pocket for it). She had taken the tour information but left that important possession at the souvenir shop. All her money was in her wallet.

There was no choice but to turn around and walk the two hours back on the Freedom Trail and speak to the cashier. When she arrived, the man behind the counter told her that he indeed had found her wallet, and he promptly returned it to her. Gina felt happy. The honesty of that person strengthened her faith in people.

These stories are about acts of courage and kindness and remind us that education is a challenge.

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