When I was in 11th grade, I had Mrs. S. for English. She was one of my favorite teachers of all time. She was the reason that I was in the class to begin with as it was a 12th grade class on advanced reading and research writing. I liked her because she didn’t take shit from me. She had high expectations for me. She knew that I could handle harder books, write better papers, and broaden my horizons. She also had my brother in her class 10 years earlier and loved him, even though he chose Jim Morrison for his poetry project and played a cassette with the “c” word in it in front of the whole class.
One day, Mrs. S. whirled into the class a little late. She was carrying a pile of papers. The class collectively groaned. Mrs. S. had a habit of copying large sections of “boring” books and making us read them and analyze them. Now it seems like a silly reason to groan. those class periods of close reading were great fun for me but it was easy to get caught up in the wave of my classmates.
She walked around our circle of desks and handed us each a stapled stack. One of the guys in the class scoffed. “I have chapter four. Is that right?”
“Yes,” Mrs. S. said. She handed out the rest of the papers and then went on to tell the class our assignment. We each had a chapter of Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind by Suzanne Fisher Staples. We were each to go home that night and read our chapter, having a summary ready to share the next day. We all rolled our eyes.
The next day, our desks were still arranged in a circle. We all sat down. One student was missing and the boy with chapter four said we obviously couldn’t go on if we were missing a while chapter. Mrs. S. was prepared, though. She proud out a stack of index cards, figured out which chapter the missing student had been assigned, and sat down with her own summary.
That 45 minute class was magical. We went around the circle and each of us told the story of our chapter. Before long the whole class was invested in the story. We were excited to share our chapters and piece together the puzzle of the story with what we each knew.
I don’t remember what happened in my chapter but I do remember the climax of the book still. Heck, maybe that was my chapter. It has been 16 years since we sat in that circle. I’ve forgotten most of the people who were there.
This is part of what I know about story. I know that there is story in everything, that telling each other stories is just as important as reading stories, that watching stories and playing stories have their place too. I know that we are creatures of story, that it is a vital part of life and living.