One of my favourite teachers as a child was Graeme Early. Graeme was a primary school teacher, but also a musician. I’d just turned six years old when I met him. I was a frightened little redhead in a new school, with no self-esteem and a terrible fear of adults. But I gravitated towards Graeme as soon as I met him and he to me. He had a sense of who the broken ones were and seemed to have an immediate affinity with us. He didn’t want to fix us, he just wanted us to have different experiences other than the ones we were having. He wanted us to know that not all adults were monsters.
Graeme was one of those rare souls you meet who teaches you without you realising you’re being taught. Much later, both my brother and sister had the pleasure of knowing him outside of school through the youth groups they attended. He helped them both through some rough times and he taught them in ways school cannot. Graeme Early was a storyteller more than he was a teacher. Every afternoon, when the reading, math and science was done, when we’d put everything away, he would gather his students around him and get out his guitar. Twenty pairs of eyes would stare up at him, wide with wonder and anticipation. We forgot about everything in that final hour of the day – the itchy carpet, the expectations of teachers and parents, even what faced us when we went home. During that hour we’d sing and learn new songs while Graeme kept us together with his guitar. We learned Beatles songs, Dylan, John Denver, Cat Stevens, but we also sang about bees and drunken sailors. We sang in Maori, French and sometimes gibberish. We learned the art of storytelling through music. Most importantly, Graeme helped each of us learn who we were, usually inadvertantly. To me he said outright you’re a storyteller, that is your gift. That was the first time I knew who I was.
Do you remember storytellers from your early years? What influence did they have on you? How did you learn you were a storyteller?