When Teachers Tell Their Stories – Part 7

In Part 6, I turned off the lights to tell a story, “The Halloween Story.”  Lights off can be as bonding as snuggling, and definitely an attention grabber.  The lesson learned was being brave, and how scary things might not be scary after all.

Part 7
There is no intentional learning for children, nor animals in this story.  It is the ‘real deal’.  It just happened.  And the thrilling story speaks for itself, absolutely captivating children.  Good stories are like that.

The Tree Story

Fruits of Sweet Gum Tree

I begin the story holding my arm straight up and saying, “My house”, then moving my arm to the left and saying, “The Kruger’s house.”  This is important to the story, so I repeat those words with my arm.

“It happened like this.”  In the middle, right in between the two houses, was a huge tree.  It was gigantic, a towering sweet gum tree.  It was much too big to be between the houses. Now, a sweet gum tree has thousands of balls that are full of sharp prickers.  They dropped all over the yard.  Grass couldn’t grow. Not only that, you couldn’t walk barefoot because the sweet gum balls stabbed your feet.  They even went all the way through flip-flops.  Ouch!

The tree had to come down.

Where I worked there was a man named Ray.  He would come to your house and take down your tree.  It didn’t cost you anything, because he kept all the wood from the tree.  So, I said, “Ray, it’s the sweet gum tree.  It’s right between my house and the Kruger’s.  It’s way too big, and the prickers are all over the place.  Can you come over and take down the tree?”

Sure enough, bright and early Saturday morning, Ray arrived.  He had his two big teenage sons with him.  They got to work right away.  First they went up to the tip top and started taking down branches.

I make sweeping chopping movements and sounds.

Ray chopped off the top part of the tree.  Next, he moved to the lower section of branches and started taking them down.  They were much bigger.

I make slow, heavy chopping movements and sounds.

The wind started to blow, so Ray and his sons came down from the tree and took a lunch break.  Soon, they were back up, and cutting away.  The branches were really big, and it was hard to cut them.  As they worked, the wind became strong.  They were getting close to the lower part of the tree.  Ray decided they should stop, and make the big cut at the bottom to take down the tree.  It was too hard to cut big branches in all the wind.

He said it would be okay.

As Ray made the cut…

This is where I put up my arm, lean it a little to the left (the Kruger’s house) slowly making creaking sounds.  I do this twice.  Inevitably a child ‘gets it’ and says, “No!  it’s going the wrong way!”

And the pace quickens.  I’m telling the story as if I’m telling  the part in Jack and the Beanstalk where Jack is climbing down the beanstalk being chased by the giant.  The difference is… my story is real.

Yes!  It’s going the wrong way!  The tree might crash on the Kruger’s house.  Steve ran across the street to Jim’s house.  Jim had the thick, orange, glow-in-the-dark rope that never brakes. Never, ever.  Jim saw the emergency and came to help.  They wrapped the thick orange rope around the tree.

I move my arm, circling hard and fast, as if I’m wrapping that rope.

Now, there were five big, strong men holding the rope- Steve, Jim, Ray and his two sons.  They grabbed the ends of the rope and said, “One, two, three, pull!”  They pulled.  And the rope went snap, snap, snap.

I snap my fingers each time I say ‘snap’.  There is silence.  No one speaks or moves.

This was really bad.  This was a real emergency.  What do you do when there is a real emergency?  Who do you call?


No, that’s close, but not the right number.


Yes!  Steve said, “Jennie, call 9-1-1.”  I did.  I was so nervous.  My hands were shaking.  It was hard to dial the phone.

“Hello.  It’s  the sweet gum tree.  It’s going to crash on the Kruger’s house.  Please help.”

Within minutes the big, red fire truck arrived.  Mike Aimen, the Fire Chief, was driving the truck.  He looked at everything and talked to Steve.  I could see him crossing his arms. Then he looked down, shaking his head. “I cannot help you”, he said.  “The only person who can help is The Tree Man.”

I called right away.  “Hello?  It’s the tree at the Fitzkee’s house.  It’s ready to fall down, on the Kruger’s house.”

“I’ll be right over.”

When The Tree Man arrived he never smiled.  He didn’t say a word.   He had a huge cherry picker truck, and he rode in the bucket to get to the tree.  By now, it was starting to get dark.  And the wind was howling.

Steve said, “Jennie, leave.  Take the children and go away.  I don’t want them to be here if something terrible happens.”  He was right.  I put the kids in the car and took them to McDonald’s for dinner.  They loved it, I couldn’t eat a bite.  When we got back home, it was dark.  All the neighbors were lined up on the street, looking at The Tree Man.  The fire truck was still there so it could shine a bright beam of flood light on the tree.  No one said a word.  All we could hear was the wind and The Tree Man’s saw.

It was bedtime for our children.  I decided to bring sleeping bags downstairs to the den, just in case the tree crashed through our roof.  As I rolled out the sleeping bags, I felt the ground shake, and I heard a low rumble.  The tree had fallen!  I rushed outside to see the giant tree trunk in our backyard.  Whew.

The neighbors went home.  The fire chief went home.  The Tree Man finally spoke to us.  “You were very lucky.  I did not think I could save how that tree fell.  You should never, ever have someone take down a big tree unless they are a professional.”  We thanked him over and over.  We were lucky.


Stay tuned for Part 8.

About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty-five 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 was a live guest on the Kelly Clarkson Show. I am highlighted in the seventh edition of Jim Trelease's million-copy bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital, and the Massachusetts State House in Boston.
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61 Responses to When Teachers Tell Their Stories – Part 7

  1. Ritu says:

    You sure know how to tell a story, Jennie!

  2. beth says:

    lots of suspense and a happy ending – perfect

  3. Definitely a life lesson in this story! I particularly enjoyed the stage directions. I can just see the children sitting around you, their eyes getting wider and wider as the suspense builds.

  4. Oh, boy that was a gripping story! I’m sure glad it had a happy ending!

  5. Darlene says:

    Such an amazing story for kids and adults. All the better because it is true. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Opher says:

    That’s quite a story Jennie! That must have been one big tree! I don’t think the Krugers would have been happy!

  7. Dan Antion says:

    You had me looking over at our neighbor’s larg oak tree, Jennie. Phew!

  8. Steve Fitzkee says:

    Jennie’s Steve here – again! A most terrible day and it really happened “like this”! That was another expensive day in our early married days and taught both of us some big lessons. However, Mrs. Kruger’s comment (see Opher’s comment and Jennie’s response) was the best learning experience for me.

  9. petespringerauthor says:

    Thanks for this entertaining story, Jennie. I especially enjoy how you let us see your process and all of the associated body movements and sounds. If I were a spectator, I know I’d be enjoying the fascinated looks of the children as you were telling this story.

    Have you thought of or do you do storytelling on the side? You’ve got a knack for this!

    • Jennie says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed this, Pete. It isn’t easy to write the sounds and movements, so it’s a good thing it worked. I haven’t thought of telling stories outside of school, but I can tell you that any adult who walks by the classroom in the middle of a story is drawn in to listen. 🙂

  10. Well, I suppose you thought the first team were professionals. This is a scary story, Jennie. We also had a big tree in our yard. It was a landmark tree, but I thought it was rotten and I was scared it would fall on my house. We had it taken down but there were no dramatics like this.

    • Jennie says:

      In my heart I knew they were not professionals, but they had taken down so many trees for other people that we felt confident. I think the combination of the size, the wind, and making that big cut too early caused the problem. Scary as it was, it now makes a great story to tell. Thanks, Robbie. I’m glad your tree came down ‘the right way’. 🙂

  11. I was holding my breath too. I know about trees falling wrong and it’s never pretty. So glad there was someone available to save the day. Great, great story.

    • Jennie says:

      It was a miracle, which makes for a great story to tell. Mrs. Kruger came out because she knew I was beside myself. She put her arm around me and said, “Jennie, it’s people that matter, not houses.” Can you believe she said that, when the tree was nearly ready to crash onto her house? She was a miracle worker. She made me a better person. I’m glad you enjoyed the story, Marlene.

      • Mrs Kruger has her values straight. Besides, her insurance might have bought her a new kitchen. 🙂 Neighbors like that are rare.

      • Jennie says:

        If only every neighbor was a Mrs. Kruger! And I hadn’t thought of the potential new kitchen. Gee, that might not have been so bad after all. 🙂 On a side note, I am now the Mrs. Kruger to our wonderful neighbors. I am so glad!

  12. Jennie, I wish I could have been there to listen — and to watch as you told that marvelous story. Hugs on the wing!

  13. frenchc1955 says:

    Jennie, thank you for a very well told story!

  14. frenchc1955 says:

    Reblogged this on charles french words reading and writing and commented:
    Here is part 7 in Jennie’s wonderful series — When Teachers Tell Their Stories !

  15. jilldennison says:

    I was holding my breath for the entire second half of the story! I did love what Ms. Kruger said to you, though … she’s right. People matter more than ‘things’. You have a way of grabbing the reader in your storytelling from the first sentence!

  16. CarolCooks2 says:

    Jennie, you are the ultimate storyteller such lucky children 🙂 x

  17. joylennick says:

    What a great story-teller you are, Jennie! Having worked alongside teachers, part-time, for ten years, I am full of admiration for their patience. I did some coaching with reading and art in a very minor way and one of the little, seemingly slow, lads I helped, left his extreme shyness and inhibitions behind, went to University, received a degree and wrote to me out of the blue last year thanking me for my ‘patience.’ So, you should receive a sackful of thanks….Well done you. x

  18. beetleypete says:

    That story could have been over i seconds, and sounded ‘average’ at best. But you took the kids, and us, on a journey that turned it into fairy-tale.
    Such talent as a teacher cannot be learned. You were born with that in your heart.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    • Jennie says:

      That is so nice, Pete. I guess there is much truth to the saying, “It’s not what you say, but how you say what you say.” Many thanks, and best to you.

  19. dgkaye says:

    You’re a born storyteller Jennie. 🙂

  20. I always love every story that Jennie comes up with. Ultimately I think such tales are empowering for children as they grow up because they learn that even the scariest stories may not really be so bad at all, and even if they are, they can teach us how to stay safe during a scary time.

  21. well, I was hooked with that story, myself! whewwww!

  22. Always best is a happy end. 😉 Great story! Michael

  23. Another great story! I can relate all too much to the cutting of trees for firewood.

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