This school year got off to a rough start. Nothing seemed to work smoothly; schedules were unbelievably convoluted, classes crowded, more and more mandated tests imposed upon the demands of the curriculum. Thank goodness at least one teacher at my school pressed to keep alive the things that make a difference for her students--weekly visits by Mrs. Calvetti, "The Storyteller."
Last year, this teacher was the only one who took me up on my offer to tell stories in the classroom. It clearly has been important to these kids, because they always pointed out if it was Day 5, story day. For whatever reason, this class of kids has more than its share of the typical issues facing classroom teachers today---families in transition and crisis, children with significant attention problems, emotionally needy kids--nearly every one of these little bodies has a Big Issue. Over the years, I've noticed that groups like this one respond particularly well to the magic of story. Their teacher sees it, too. She has looped with the same group of kids. Last year, she was their 1st grade teacher, this year, 2nd. She wanted to know if I could tell stories again--"Anytime, whatever we're doing, we'll stop, because they need this and they get so much from it."
At long last, I was able to begin this weekly tradition with these kids as 2nd graders. They could not wait! I stepped in the room and they all stopped; time literally froze. They all gathered around the chair where they knew I would sit, their little faces glued to me.
I told them they'd be learning a really, really hard song to help me tell this story. They were ready. I used the two line refrain I'd heard Odds Bodkin use to tell the story of the Four Wisemen and the Lion's Bones. They roared like little lions themselves when they realized just how "hard" my song really was, then settled in the take in the mental motion picture being painted as they listened to my words.
The story finished, one boy said, "What's the other story?" Ah yes, now these were 2nd graders and understood the significance of the word written on the chalkboard--"stories," as in plural, more than one. Quickly, I decided to tell a silly spooky camp story--the "turn me over" one over which made us groan as kids. Two of the girls clearly knew the story. I could tell by their excited faces and knowing nudges, but they kept it in.
What was so amazing about that? One of those girls suffers from some major behavioral concerns, often translated as outright and loud defiance. Not this time. When the kids were done groaning, I thanked the girls for keeping the story to themselves so the rest could enjoy it. She simply said, "Well, it's SO pathetic!"
And I said, "Yes, it is, and I saw you smile, anyway!"
Later, passing the kids lined up in the hall, they all watched me almost reverently. Aha, I thought to myself. This is but a small taste of the honor bestowed upon the seanachies of old. No matter how tech-savvy these kids become, they fall awestruck at the notion of stories told "the old way."
It's a great feeling to have, honor bestowed. Share a story told "the old way" with small people you love. You'll see I speak the truth.