I started teaching in 1973. For my birthday in 1974 a friend of mine gave me a guitar. I knew some basic chords that I had learned when I was a teenager and this new guitar inspired me to sing folksongs and incorporate them into my teaching.
Granted the students (6th graders) that I was teaching were not going to be impressed with the Kingston Trio’s “Tom Dooley”, but they did get into songs like “This Land is Your Land”, “The Titanic”, “Ballad of Jesse James”, and “Battle of New Orleans”. The summer of my third year of teaching a fellow teacher, Jerry Silverstein, took me to the Philadelphia Folk Festival for the first time, and I was introduced to a whole new set of tunes to use in class. Singing with kids became an important part of my teaching. I continued singing throughout my career.
I knew the importance of reading to students also, so I made sure that part of every day was spent reading aloud from some piece of literature. Storytelling was not something that I was familiar with or did consciously. I did set up as part of my curriculum “30 Second Speeches”. Students on a scheduled basis throughout the year had to get up in front of the class and speak on a topic of their choosing for at least 30 seconds. In hindsight what I was unknowingly doing was allowing students to tell stories.
In 1981, Jerry Silverstein, a fellow teacher, was producing a musical play, “Hans Christian Andersen,” for the Middle School that I had taught in. For those of you that remember, this musical was based on the movie starring Danny Kaye. Jerry asked me if I wanted to play the part of Hans Christian Andersen. I loved the movie and all of the songs that were in it. Up until that moment I had never been in a play my entire life. I agreed and spent many hours with Middle School students and fellow teachers getting ready to perform. Now as part of my role, I had to tell stories. Most of them went into song, such as “The Ugly Duckling,” “ The Emperor’s New Clothes,” and “Thumbelina”. I was starting to get into this storytelling thing .
The day of the first performance came on March13th and it was wonderful. I had never experienced speaking in front of an audience so large that listened and were interested in what I was saying. Even though my lines were scripted, as were the other actors and actresses in the play, I was still amazed at the power in the story. All the performances went well. My sister and her family that attended one of the performances sent flowers up to me on the stage, during the curtain call, which I politely refused, not thinking that anyone would possibly send me flowers.
I was now hooked on storytelling. I spent all the following summer reading up on the art of storytelling. I found out about the group NAPPS (National Association for the Preservation and Perpetuation of Storytelling) and became a member. In October, I convinced my school district to send me to the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, TN. Similar to what the Philly Folk Festival did to me with singing and folk music, the National Storytelling Festival expanded my horizons to storytelling.
On my return, storytelling became a natural part of my teaching in addition to my singing. I alternated my reading to students with telling stories to them. I started with “Jack Tales” and went from there. You can read more about that in one of my first writings http://hdhstory.net/Storyblog/?p=24. I even got my first paid gig at my local library that Halloween. But that is a different story, which I might share some other time.