What’s your story?

Kasiva Mutua’s story, which she tells in her TEDTalk, "How I use the drum to tell my story," is of heroic triumph over her culture and society’s gender discrimination. To introduce storytelling the final major assignment in my conversation course I chose Mutua’s TEDTalk.

TEDTalks are outstanding resources, and one reason I often incorporate them in to my lessons is that they offer closed captioning/subtitles and transcripts in multiple languages, thereby allowing low-to-mid level EFL/ESL users to listen to the English and follow along in their native language.

For the storytelling assignment, students must tell a two-to-three minute story based on one of several prompts. The story must follow a prescribed outline.

To prepare students for learning how to accomplish the task, I gave this homework assignment, and we discussed the completed assignment in class, after which I told them my story, and they shared their story drafts.

Students had just completed the module on Making Recommendations, in which they had to facilitate conversation, so in order to have them transfer their skill to the new module, I explained that I would listen to their conversation about the video, prompted by the homework questions they answered, but I would say little.

It was up to the students to facilitate, and I might contribute here and there with a question or comment. We sat in a large circle, with me near the whiteboard, so I could easily write observations and insights students made.

In the discussions, students observed that Mutua grabbed the audience’s attention with her first compelling word, "Listen," with her tone, her gestures, her personal stories, with how she paced her speaking, all of which I wrote on the board.

When students were ready to move on from the question, I asked about how she dressed, and they collectively replied "AH!" as they realized her traditional clothes were also an attention grabber.

As the conversation unfolded, students’ insights missed no detail: How did she keep her audience’s attention? With pictures and her drumming. What surprised you? That there is terrible discrimination against women.

What is Mutua’s story? That she never gave up her dream. And what did you learn? That there is terrible discrimination against women. That in Mutua’s culture and society, women were forbidden from playing drums. That drumming is part of her culture. That she has fused traditional drumming with new drumming to create a novel sound.

And to a student, they said: No matter what my goal or how hard it is to achieve it, I can do it.

I can do it. Even the students who have done little all semester or whose skills are developing slowly, embraced it: I can do it. "She never quit. I want to be like her," one young woman said. Yes, I thought, as my eyes became teary, yes, you can.

For over three decades, I’ve taught all kinds of students in all kinds of courses throughout the world. Sometimes — probably too rarely there are palpable moments when I know beyond any doubt why I became an educator and why I remain an educator.

As I told my students at the end the conversation about Kasiva Mutua, "You are the reason I became a teacher."

That’s my story. What’s yours?