You may be familiar with StoryCorps, the nonprofit American oral history project on NPR. StoryCorp’s mission is “to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share and preserve the stories of our lives.” The format is simple: two people sit down in a studio and share their stories, and StoryCorps records and archives the conversations.

More than 35,000 conversations have been archived so far, many in the context of various “initiatives.” For example, StoryCorps is recording one story for every life lost on September 11, 2001, to “honor the lost voices of 9/11.”

On September 19, StoryCorps launched its National Teachers Initiative at the White House. The Initiative celebrates the contributions of America’s public school teachers. “By recording, sharing, and preserving their stories, we hope to  call public attention to the invaluable contributions teachers have made to this nation, honor those who have embraced the profession as their calling, encourage teaching as a career choice, and unify the country behind its teachers – helping us all recognize that there is no more important or noble work than that of educating our nation’s children,” the StoryCorps website explains.

The Initiative will place special emphasis on the work of teachers striving to increase the number of students who graduate prepared for college and careers. With major funding provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the effort is part of American Graduate, a public media initiative supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to help local communities across America address the dropout crisis.

Both my parents were public school teachers, and my sister was a substitute teacher for many years. I can appreciate that teaching is emotionally, intellectually and physically demanding – even more so now than when my parents were working. There’s scant pay or prestige in the profession these days, and the rewards are often intangible.

Renee Thorton, a teacher in New York, NY put it this way: “Even though you plant a seed and you don’t see it flourish or bloom, it’s there, and it grows.”

That’s why it’s great to hear StoryCorps founder Dave Isay say, “I think there is no higher calling than being a public school teacher in this country. Teachers are feeling under attack and underappreciated. We want to do our part over the next year to turn that around.”

StoryCorps itself also has an educational component. For a start, teachers and tutors have used StoryCorps stories and interview methods in their classrooms since the project’s inception in 2003. These powerful stories can be used to teach history, while the interview methods teach the value of simply listening. A school in Illinois has likewise adopted the StoryCorps model, complete with musical backgrounds, as a way to teach English.

There’s also StoryCorpsU, an interactive, standards-based college readiness program that teaches students the power of their voice and enforces the message that every voice counts and every story matters equally. The program uses StoryCorps content and interviewing techniques to enhance students’ skills around speaking, listening, writing and critical thinking – while also supporting greater self-awareness and social awareness.

During the 2011-2012 school year, StoryCorpsU is being implemented in twenty classrooms through partnerships in New York City, St. Louis and Washington, DC. The plan is to expand the reach of the program to more schools across the country over time.

One of the teachers who spoke at the White House at the initiative’s launch last week said he’d quit studying medicine to become a teacher when he realized that was his calling. “Whatever job they’re going to have in their future lives – they couldn’t have it without me,” he said.

That’s the value of teaching and tutoring.

Please comment and share your thoughts.

Featured image courtesy of StoryCorps.

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