The storyteller teacher

Anil Kumar Patnaik

Before I take you to my story, I would like to ask you a question – What is the currency of the 21st century? You may have many different answers to this, mine is IDEAS; ideas are the new currency in this 21st century and stories facilitate the exchange of this currency. The reason is stories illuminate, illustrate, inspire, captivate, speak to the imagination, touch one’s heart and create impactful moments. And why is this? Because our brain is hardwired to listen to stories.

If I ask you about the total surface area of a cuboid, unless you are a math geek, you won’t have the answer to my question. What about Newton’s second law of motion? Does the name Garibaldi mean anything to you?

As students we have all learnt about these people and concepts and yet as adults we don’t remember them. However, if I ask you about the story of the thirsty crow, the monkey and the crocodile, the monkey and the cap seller, immediately you can start answering as you remember all of them vividly. Any content delivered through stories is always remembered. Just like air, everywhere there is a story, only we have to be aware of it. Educators who are communicators are good storytellers.

It has been seen that one’s favourite subject is always taught by the favourite teacher and the converse is also true. If the subject teacher is a storyteller, any subject can be interesting. Subconsciously, students ask two things – excite me about your subject and excite me about your personality. If the personality envelopes a storyteller, it can spellbind all students.

If as an educator, you are not able to teach your students certain concepts even after several attempts, stop ramming down their throats, use stories, not once but always.

To inspire students with stories, you must be inspired yourself because passion is contagious. Great teachers are passionate about their subjects and create conditions for learning. If a teacher doesn’t have a connection with the content, he/she can’t electrify their students. If you find your subject fascinating and wonderful, it’s more than likely your students will too.

Suppose you are walking on the road and you come across a black or white cow, for sure you won’t stop to see, but if you saw a green cow? Certainly, its presence will astonish you and you are going to talk about it. The same thing happens in a classroom, you must provide something to the brain it has not processed before.

The art of storytelling lies in the art of listening. As an educator develop the power of listening by knowing your audience.

Great teachers love to learn, they learn by listening, they listen to listen, not listen to reply, they listen to what’s said and what’s unsaid.

Educators focus on a deep understanding of content rather than a deep understanding of students. A deep understanding of students comes from the power of listening skills. Whether it’s school or life, if you want to earn trust, be a listener first. A good storyteller teacher is not an orator but a listener. The biggest gift we can give someone is the gift of being heard, after all, everybody wants to be heard, it costs nothing and only brings large benefits.

Now on to my story
Abhas’ online class is extraordinarily conversational, notwithstanding mute audio and off video, his students remain very active in the class. For every question, he uses the chatbox and asks his students to type, many messages appear and the class becomes interactive.

As Abhas was wrapping up his class on trigonometry, there were still 10 minutes left.
“10 minutes left, if anyone has any doubts, please unmute and speak.”
“Sir, please tell us a story,” Ipsita posted.
Soumya unmuted and spoke, “Please sir, you promised last week.”
“We want story,” Angel posted.

Gracy, Bhavya, Aniket, Tanu, Aurodeep, Sonali, Irmeen, Subhashree, Jyoti posted the same message.

“Okay,” said Abhas, “I will tell you a story, it will take you on a geography tour. I will share with you the images too. And hopefully you will also take back some lessons for life.”

Dead sea: Photo: Arwcheek, courtesy Wikipedia

This is the story of two seas in Israel – The Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee.
As he continued, he showed images of The Dead Sea and The Sea of Galilee.

“The Dead Sea is a lake, 50 miles long and 11 miles wide. Its surface and shore are 427 metres below sea level. It’s Earth’s lowest elevation on land. The lake has no outlet and the heavy inflow of freshwater is carried off solely by evaporation, which is rapid in the hot desert climate. Apparently seven million tons of water evaporate every day from the Dead Sea. Its salt content is 10 times the level of normal seawater. The Dead Sea lives up to its name, all the saltiness implies no fish, no vegetation, no plants, or living thing of any kind living in and around the water. Due to the high salinity of water, a human being can effortlessly float in the Dead Sea. You can take a novel or magazine and float and read in the Dead Sea.

The other body of water is the Sea of Galilee, it’s just north of the Dead Sea, 13 miles long and 7 miles wide, resplendent with rich, colourful marine life, filled with fish and lush foliage. It’s Israel’s largest freshwater lake and absolutely picturesque. The sea of galilee is home to 20 different types of fish.”

“The interesting thing is that both the Dead Sea and Sea of Galilee are fed by River Jordan. Two seas, same source, same region, one is full of life, the other is dead. There is only one difference between these two seas – the Sea of Galilee receives water from the River Jordan and gives it back to the river. River Jordan flows into the Sea of Galilee and flows out again which keeps the sea healthy, vibrant and fills a plethora of marine life. The Dead Sea, on the other hand, receives water from the River Jordan but does not give back, as a result, it sustains no life. The Sea of Galilee is a conduit and full of life and the Dead Sea is a container, full of death.

The two bodies of water, witness a bitter truth of human life, it’s in receiving and giving that life has existence. Life is not just about receiving, it’s also about giving. Whether it’s love, affection, knowledge, wisdom or respect, if we don’t learn to give, we will end up like the Dead Sea – stagnant, lifeless, bitter and no life.”

He paused, the class was silent.

“True giving and happiness are connected and they both come from a place deep within our souls. As you give, the enjoyment is twice, first by the giver and second by the receiver. It is rightly said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
“Wow!” typed Baisakhi
“Amazing story sir, I will share it with my parents,” said Ansh.
“I read about it for my quiz competition but this aspect of it is phenomenal sir,” said Aniket.

Abhas continued, “Dear children, I am glad that this story touched you, but remember – GREAT STORIES ARE ALWAYS RETOLD. You can leave the meeting, thank you.” He added, “Staaaaaay Blesssssed,” in his signature style.

Sea of galilee: Photo: Zachi Evenor and UserMathKnight, courtesy: Wikipedia

That day, each family member of classes X D and E was literally transported to the beautiful landscape of Israel and the mesmerizing two seas.

In the evening, Abhas received a message on his phone, “Good evening sir, I am Ankit’s father, today I was at home and was listening to your story. Just thought of saying thank you for bringing up our kids so well with your stories. Ankit shared the story with me too, I could see changes in him. Thank you so much again.”

“I feel privileged sir, thank you.” Abhas replied.
A little later, his phone buzzed; when he picked it up, a mellifluous voice spoke, “Sir, this is Mrs.Bhatnagar, Tanvee’s mother.”
“Namaskar ma’am,” said Abhas, to the school chairperson.
She continued, “Tomorrow is Tanvee’s birthday, she wishes to celebrate in the orphanage and keep it simple.”
“That’s wonderful ma’am.”
“Thank you for developing empathy in her with your story. That’s a metamorphosis in my daughter. Keep up the good work, the management is proud of you.”

Abhas thanked her for the information and encouragement.

Everyone can become a storyteller; stories come naturally to us. Let’s try to awaken the spirit within and inspire, connect and convince students with stories.

The author is an enthusiastic educator of mathematics and writes on topics related to innovative and engaging educational methods. He is a CBSE resource person for teacher professional development programmes. He is known for his creative skills, story writing, dramatic and mimicry abilities, disciplined lifestyle and contributions as a community worker. He can be reached at [email protected].

Leave a Reply