“At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” ~Maya Angelou
I remember hearing this quote in relation to teaching some time ago, and it really had an impact on me. I thought of my favorite teachers–Mrs. Miller, Mrs. Shaw, and Mr. Hutton–and realized why they were my favorites. It wasn’t so much what they taught (though I clearly remember learning to diagram sentences from Mrs. Shaw and how to debate in a civil manner in Mr. Hutton’s class), but it was the way I felt when I was in their classes. Safe, respected, curious, inspired, excited. The list could go on. I liked who I was when I was in their classroom. I liked the way those teachers made me feel. And what we feel strongly, we tend to remember.
When I became a teacher myself, I strove be the kind who didn’t just teach facts, but who created a positive learning environment. I wanted kids to be excited to come to my classroom. I wanted to make learning fun. I wanted them to feel respected. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as it might seem. I do hope I had a positive impact on a few though.
But I thought of Maya Angelou’s quote again this past week as I’ve been reading a book called The Emotional Craft of Fiction by esteemed agent, Donald Maas. There’s so much great advice in this book, but it could almost be summed up by altering Angelou’s quote a little: At the end of the day, people won’t remember the words, but how the book made them feel.
It seems great teachers and great books have much in common.
At times, I’ve had trouble identifying exactly what it is about certain books that I love, but I now realize it’s how the book made me feel. It was more about my response to the book than the book itself. It’s impossible for a book to be loved by all, but great books have the ability to produce this effect in many people. We often reread favorite books because we want to relive that experience. It can be the same with beloved movies.
I’ve read stories with the most eloquent, beautiful language. Sentences that gave me pangs of envy at the writer’s ability, but a year later, I couldn’t tell you anything noteworthy about the story. I’ve also read stories with much plainer language, but which left me thinking about the characters or storyline long after I put the book down. If you really think about it, it’s not good writing that sticks with us, but good stories.
The connection between great teachers and great books lies in emotional resonance. I’m not sure if I was ever the kind of teacher that students will remember fondly years from now, but I am doing my best to write books that my readers will remember even decades later.
That, at least, is my goal.