March 20 is World Storytelling Day, an annual celebration designed to recognize the art of storytelling. Its roots date back to Sweden in the the early 1990’s. The theme for 2016 is Strong Women. I immediately thought about Mrs. W, an exception teacher who helped me appreciate the importance of sharing our individual stories.
In 8th grade, filled with hormones and on the cusp of the angry teenage years, it wasn’t cool to like school or teachers, especially not ones that had a reputation for being mean. While I had always loved to read and create stories, Language Arts was a constant struggle as I was a terrible speller and the rules of grammar often made no sense to my brain. The teacher, Mrs. W. was hard on her students, but was also one of the strongest examples in my life that successful teachers care more about who they teach than what they teach.
One of our major assignments that year was to write an autobiography. At 13, I didn’t think I had many meaningful things to write about, and couldn’t figure out why anyone would care about my life. Mrs. W. tried to explain that everyone has a story and that each experience, no matter how trivial it seems in the moment, shapes who we become. I begrudgingly completed the assignment and my mom held on to it for me, knowing one day I’d need to be reminded of how far I’ve come. (Right now it's in my keepsake box, something I reread when I want a good laugh, and something concrete my son can hold later to learn more about his family and the start of his own story).
Towards the end of the school year, I was nominated for an award to be given out at middle school graduation. The selection process required each nominee to write and give a speech in front of several faculty and staff members. I was terrified, unsure of what to say, and especially hesitant to be in competition with my friends, so I decided to skip the speeches and let the award go to someone else.
The day of the event, when Mrs. W. learned that I was not planning to present, she pulled me out of another class and gave me a firm talking to about not giving up before I truly began. While talking about myself seemed unnatural and egotistical, she reminded me that our individual, unique stories matter. The opportunity to reflect on where we come from, realize how far we’ve come, and share those lessons with others is a gift. And then she made me call my parents to come watch the speeches after school. I sat in her classroom the rest of the day, writing the story about what made me special and why I deserved an award.
That day, she stood up for me and taught me that my story--all of our stories--have worth. And this is a lesson I continue to embrace.While it hasn’t always been pretty or so formal, I have been sharing my story ever since. Who is a strong woman that has played a critical role in your story? I’d love for you to share with me at Kara@storiechild.com