Stories are vital to the English Language Arts curriculum. They are more than just words on a page. Each letter, each syllable, and each line encompass life lessons that the characters transfer from the page to the reader. Students need to read and learn about The Tragedy of Romeo & Juliet to understand how a play so old can still transcend time and remain relevant today. Students need to read and learn about The Odyssey, so they can understand how a common man can overcome insurmountable odds: the same odds I see my students face every day in my classroom, the same odds I know they will face once they leave my classroom, and the same odds I know they can overcome due to what I give them in my classroom. Sometimes, the best stories are not the ones we read, but they are the ones we create.
The first essay we do in my English class is the narrative essay. This is usually the first time my students have ever seen an essay. I give my students a model of the essay I want them to write: a four paragraph essay about my struggles and my accomplishments. We dissect each sentence of the essay and identify what each sentence does. When finished, I give my students an outline to guide them and their writing. They type up their essays of their struggles and accomplishments and email them to me when they are finished.
Teaching is not a job. Teaching is a profession. As a teacher, I am expected to be a professional with my students at all times. The line gets blurred whenever I teach, for I have found that teaching is so personal at times. Sharing my own essay about my own struggles and accomplishments is personal. It allows my students to see me, not the teacher, in a different light. When I read their narrative essays, it allows me to see them, not the students, in a better light. They see a teacher who is not always right, but they see a teacher who struggles and perseveres just like they do. I see students who may not always be as passionate about the English Language Arts as I am, but they are passionate about other things. They should be. The stories we create and share with one another allow us to be authentic with one another: these stories are the best ones.
In a world where we get bombarded with images that may not always represent life accurately, teachers must be as authentic with their students as much as possible. Our classrooms may be the only place where students engage with authenticity. Creating stories and sharing them with one another allows us to be authentic. When we create our own stories with conviction, we not only teach, but we inspire. Our own stories help our students grow. Their own stories help us grow.
Mr. Chong Lor has been an English teacher at Jones High School for the past two years. He also served as our OKCTE Young Writers Contest Coordinator this past year. Prior to teaching, he served in the U.S. Army for eight years. His hobbies include writing, creating music, reading, and playing guitar. He plans to continue teaching but overseas in the near future.