When our eyes glaze over and a goofy grin appears on our face, we might have entered that fairy tale called childhood.
Nothing could go wrong...or at least not for long...as memories conjure images of learning how to bike ride and then traveling farther than told to go, hanging around the basketball court and wondering when it would be your turn to shoot the ball, playing a night game of hide-and-go-seek and on and on.
Sparkles and rainbows often accompany the reflections as if anything we touched in those times were full of magic.
Then came the stormy fortress and villains within our life story. A few of us may have called this place "school".
Creativity was set aside so we could learn what all parents wanted their children to know: reading, writing, and arithmetic.
This scholastic kingdom divided its subjects into castes that could not invade another. Tall fences and barricades prevented Social Studies from invading Math and inhibited Science from merging with English.
Fortunately, I had a 5th grade science teacher named Mr. Glodowski.
He was a balding man with a few flicks of hair that gave his head a soft look when the light slipped through the large classroom blinds. His glasses were geometric in nature and magnified his eyes so that he could see what anyone was doing at any one time...like when I wrote stories while he taught.
I slipped my writing notebook under my science notebook when I felt a glance my way. But it was too late. I was caught. I could tell by the way Mr. Glodowski prolonged his gaze in my direction.
Instead of calling my name in front of the class at that time, he walked to my desk when the bell rang.
While stuffing my backpack, I kept my head down as if to thwart any lecture of my creative writing during his class.
Then I heard it.
Mr. Glodowski's tone had an edge of amusement to it. I was not expecting that.
Mr. Glodowski's eyes sparkled and he continued, "I could not help but notice that you are a writer."
"Could I take a look at your work?"
I hadn't shown anyone my writing notebook before. Not even in English class. But when you're caught, you're caught. I lifted the bright pink notebook by one edge so that the other half drooped.
Mr. Glodowski carefully took the notebook into his hands and delicately read page after page.
"Hmmm." And then another, "Hmmm."
He looked at me.
"What if I had a special spot in my file cabinet for your writing? You could add your stories. I expect the folder to be thick with your stories."
I scrunched my face in surprise. "Yes, but, Mr. Glodowski, you're a Science teacher. What does writing have to do with Science?"
"Pffaw! Since when is Science Science and English English. So will you continue writing or not?"
A few moments of silence until out of my mouth, "Sure, Mr. Glodowski. Sure."
And so it happened. Story was part of my Science classroom.
I paid attention to what Mr. Glodowski taught. I noticed that he used more and more stories from past and present Science experiments of failures and successes. Sometimes folklore mixed with his lessons.
One time, while studying the constellations, he announced, "I want each of you to create a constellation out of a current star chart."
While addressing the whole class, he smiled at me and said, "I want each of you to write a story behind that constellation. Be creative as you like for, after all, this is a Science class. Science encompasses the world, and the world is full of stories."
That day I knew: storytelling was the action form of learning.
Storytelling still is the key to lifelong learning.
Then it happened one day.
I had a new story to place into Mr. Glodowski's file box. It was about time travel to dinosaur days through the pop of a bubble.
When I looked for Mr. Glodowski, all I found was an empty desk.
One of my classmates walked to me with serious expression on his face.
"I heard Mr. Glodowski died of a heart attack last night. We're getting a substitute."
I scanned the room as if I could find Mr. Glodowski shake his head at such nonsense.
But it was true.
The viewing and funeral was scheduled. I brought my Mom.
We got in line to share our condolences to the Glodowski family.
For the first time, I met Mr. Glodowski's wife. I had no idea what to tell her. Nothing seemed like the right words. I had to say something though.
So I told her about the file cabinet and how he inspired me to write.
She smiled through her tears. She thanked me and took my hand in hers.
When the school yearbooks were distributed at the end of my 5th grade year, I saw that I was not the only one who Mr. Glodowski inspired to write.
One of my classmates, Ka Xiong, had written a poem in his honor.
Here is a part of Ka's poem:
Pencils are wood, A square has an angle.
There I stood, Looking at you as if you were an angel.
Mr. Glodowski's stories are part of my being as they are for others he taught.
All stories become part of our being.
That fairy tale called childhood does not have to end.
Teachers and students alike could take part in a collaborative story that builds and grows with each passing day in the classroom.
As we graduate, that time with story continues in our minds until we achieve what our teachers had wanted to instill in us: lifelong learning.
So go forth and tell, and we will listen.
Every story adds to our education.
Until we tell again,
About the Author:
Rachel Hedman is a family folklore expert and youth storytelling advocate who had several teachers like Mr. Gladowski who inspired the creative spirit she has today. She promotes positive communication and relationships through the Family Famine Series, a story synergy experience with fellow storytellers, musicians, and other performing artists. Rachel will publish "Year of the Adopted Family: 12 folktales to place in your home and value the process today" in November 2010 as part of National Adoption Month.