Beyond Telling a Story

I tell stories.  It began many years ago during lunchtime in my classroom with my preschoolers.  I told a story about my childhood, The Peanut Man, which has become a classic story that children beg for, along with at least fourteen other stories.  Yes, my stories actually have names.  Imagine that!

My storytelling grew.  They were all true, and every time I told a story I began with, “It happened like this”.  That phrase has now become a magnet.  When children hear those words, they are glued to my story.

Storytelling was also the start of my writing.  I began writing newsletters to the parents and families of my preschoolers.  I realized that telling children about my childhood adventures was as important as telling parents about the meaningful things that happened in my classroom.  Both mattered.  Both made a difference.  My writing grew tremendously because parents needed to know not only what was happening in the classroom, but why it was important.  I became a storyteller of sorts, in writing, for parents and families.

Then I had children write picture stories, encouraging them to express themselves and tell their own stories.  Children seem to change when we sit down together and I ask them to tell me their story.  They are empowered, so the stories they tell are really interesting and full of language.  Too many people underestimate children.  They have much to say!

Now, I realize that everyone has an important story to tell.  They just need to be asked.  Passing down oral history has been a mainstay since the beginning of mankind.  I have started to do just that.  Last week while traveling to Virginia, My husband and I stopped at a favorite pottery store close to the Bay Bridge Tunnel on the Eastern Shore.  I asked the shopkeeper to tell me his story…

Theany Tor grew up in Cambodia.  In 1975 at the age of thirteen, he and his family were in the middle of the Revolution, right in the heart of the crossfire.

“The Revolution was coming for the residents of the city.  My Dad heard men say about a meeting and handcuffing everybody.  He tell me, “They don’t take you and kill you.  They tell you to go to meeting in town.”  My Dad and older brother and older sister go to the meeting.  My Dad said to me, “Run!  Run!”  I run back home for one night and two days.  Then I go to the jungle.  My Dad was killed.  My older brothers and sister were killed.”

At this point in his story I was captivated, overwhelmed, touching history… you get the picture.  I asked questions, plenty of questions.  I asked Theany, “How long did you live in the jungle?”  Without hesitating he boldly answered,

“Three years, eight months, twenty days!”

I hardly knew what to say.  Clearly this was a most significant point in his life.  He pulled out postcards of Cambodia and wanted me to have them.

The photos were a link to his childhood.  He wanted to pass along his story.  I felt honored, and humbled.  Theany then said,

“I was a slave in the jungle.  I lived with other people.  We had to raise food to send to China.  Not for us to eat.  There was no education.  No medication.  I tried to come to U.S. in 1982, but was stuck in Tailand for six years.  Underground, you know.  It was 1989 before I came to America.”

That is the story of Theany Tor, a smiling, friendly man.  A shopkeeper.  He had a story to tell, as we all do.  I now have added “Tell me your story” to my quest.  Oral history is alive in my world.


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
This entry was posted in Early Education, Learning About the World, storytelling, Teaching young children and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

64 Responses to Beyond Telling a Story

  1. Thank you for sharing this story. It’s heart wrenching. I love hearing personal stories as well. Hope you are writing yours down. My guess is you are.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Marlene. Actually, I tell mine. I should probably write those down! But first I want to write down my Grandmother’s. Have a great weekend! 🙂

  2. Elaine Lascher says:

    Jen, what a stunning story. I believe that one way to bring our society together is to tell our stories to children who learn without judging or fearing others. Books are terrific and can play a big role but people telling their stories to others face to face is much more powerful for both parties. You do amazing work. I’m glad your writing is capturing your commitment to teaching little ones how to be in the world.

  3. magarisa says:

    An amazing story!

  4. beetleypete says:

    Inspirational indeed. And to think I complain about the rain…
    Best wishes, Pete.

  5. MC Clark says:

    Everyone has a story, some heartbreaking, some joyous, but all captivating. Thank you for sharing this story–it encompasses all three.

  6. Darlene says:

    Thanks for sharing this story. We need to hear these stories. Most people won’t tell you their story unless you ask. We need to ask more often. I love that you encourage the children to tell stories.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Darlene. You are so right- if we all asked, it would be amazing, wouldn’t it? Perhaps encouraging children to do so will give them the tools and comfort to grow into story tellers.

  7. Libby Sommer says:

    yes, oral history is so important. you’re doing a great job.

  8. Dan Antion says:

    It should be alive everywhere. I fear we will lose it to video.

  9. frenchc1955 says:

    Thank you for this extraordinary post!

  10. frenchc1955 says:

    Reblogged this on charles french words reading and writing and commented:
    This is an extraordinary post!

  11. And ironically, it is the storytellers who shape our ability to write stories… so much so that a poorly written well-told story will outperform the well-written bad one…Makes me proud of my puppet collection!

  12. rabbitideas says:

    This is brilliant, thank you for sharing. I noted how you have connected with parents of children you teach by telling stories of what they are learning and why- this is really interesting- I’d love to hear more about this!

  13. Reblogged this on Notes from An Alien and commented:
    Today’s re-blog reminds us that children have much to tell us, things that matter…

    And, that oral history is storytelling, too 🙂

  14. Beautiful post, Jennie. Like you, I’ve always believed that everyone has a story. When I worked in hospice it was my job to draw out the stories that gave meaning to one’s life. Asking for someone’s story is a great gift and receiving that story is even greater. 🙂

  15. Norah says:

    This is lovely, Jennie. Thanks for sharing your platform with Theany to enable him to tell his story. Everyone has a story to tell.

  16. This is a gut-wrenching, incredible story of survival for a little boy with so much courage, who grew up to be a strong and caring man, an immigrant who makes this country stronger. Thank you for sharing. Have you thought about putting all the stories together in a book? That would be wonderful. K D

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Karen Anne! You said it well. Also, you asked a very interesting question. Yes, I have thought about putting these stories into a collection. It was a lightbulb moment last summer. All I imagine is a book like Chicken Soup for the Soul. I have a friend who worked at Harper Collins helping me find a lit agent.

  17. Reblogged this on K. D. Dowdall and commented:
    An incredible story of survival and courage via A Teacher’s Reflections.

  18. If everyone has a story then this one encapsulates the true meaning of the term. Most noticeable by the precise memory for the time spent in the jungle, so etched on his memory.

  19. Brilliant post Jennie and I love to hear about the children finding their story reading voices but also the wonderful if harrowing story that Theany shared with you.. He is an inspiration and lovely to see him featured here..

  20. Pingback: Smorgasbord Blogger Daily – 2nd May 2017 – Lost Hearts and Souls, Jennie Fitzkee, Coach Muller and Sarah Brentyn | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

  21. What a heartfelt story Jennie of Theany Tor.. So many children who live in fear, and whose stories are untold.. Such heart break to lose all of his family. and then be a slave for so long One looking at him now would never think that his back story had held such tragedy and suffering.. Many thanks for sharing..
    its very important that our children tell their stories .. Its all part of healing.. as we tell them as adults.. ❤

    • Jennie says:

      Well said, Sue. I had no idea what Theany Tor’s story would be when I asked. I think he was glad I asked. 🙂 Yes, what a heartbreaking story. Puts our worries in perspective, doesn’t it! His smile is the real deal. He is an unsung hero. I am so very glad to spread his courageous story. And, I will champion storytelling. Many thanks!

  22. ~M says:

    Wow! What an amazing life story….. Just goes to show how much a person can endure, even if they have no other choice.

  23. Again, you have such an ability to listen and really hear people and in turn share their stories. Mr. Tor has much to be proud of (and it looks and sounds like a great pottery shop)!

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you for your kind words, Marcia. An everyday guy; and what a story. Listening and asking questions is a wonderful thing.

  24. What love!! I have had similar loving experiences!! 🙂

  25. reocochran says:

    I enjoy everywhere I go asking people to tell me a love story from their family or themselves. I have written about twenty of these. I chose love as I also chose my “byline” to be, “Relationships reveal our hearts.”
    You showed warmth and caring towards this man who lost everything! I think his story is beginning to have a positive turnaround in work and life style. ❤

    • Jennie says:

      I love your byline, Robin. So true. That’s great to hear that you ask people to tell their stories, too. Sharing with others is incredibly meaningful. But, you know that already!

  26. reocochran says:

    Please delete one of these responses, Jennie. I’m not sure why but all of my comments have come out in duplicate form tonight. Thank you for understanding, dear friend. 🙂

  27. cayenne154 says:

    Stories from other people are always interesting, especially when they have traveled to many places. Then they can relate things that happened at the places where they were or what was happening then, and also when someone simply has a certain job that most people don’t that includes very dangerous positions, it is always fascinating to hear their stories as well.

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