Just yesterday, someone told me that I tell stories well. She said, “you have a gift.”
She’s right. There’s a gift. Two of them, really.
An academic dean was looking for a speech teacher. He found me, in Texas, finishing the first half of my doctorate. He invited me to interview and then, when some people weren’t completely comfortable with me (imagine!), flew down to Texas to meet Nancy and to see me teaching at UT.
That was twenty-four years ago this month.
I started teaching at Fort Wayne Bible College in September, 1985. I taught three sections of public speaking and two courses in broadcasting. For the next five years, I taught two or three sections of public speaking every semester as well as courses in study skills, critical thinking and Christian worldview.
Richard gave me the gift of incredible amounts of time in front of people helping those people figure out how to be thoughtfully effective in front of people.
One of the things that I started very early in my teaching was telling stories to illustrate points. Richard labeled one type of those stories. He called them “just yesterday” stories.
You know them. A person will be making a point about the value of a product and say, “just yesterday, I saw…” A teacher will try to explain how this abstract concept relates to these sleepy students and will say, “just yesterday, Jim was asking me how to make his roommate quit …”
Somehow, in a classroom, “just yesterday” is far more compelling, far more relevant than “here’s a story I learned in grad school” or “when I wrote this lecture five years ago, here’s the story I made up” or “let me tell you this joke I found in Reader’s Digest, but you can pretend you have never heard it before.”
Richard didn’t teach me to tell stories, but he gave me the gift as a young faculty member of the label for a powerful kind of story and the encouragement to use those stories in my teaching. And after more than two decades, I have spent a lot of time finding stories and analogies and metaphors in my daily life.
Today, when I tell stories to illustrate points, and there is a glimmer of understanding because of a story, it’s because Richard gave me permission and a platform for practicing.
I moved on from that school seventeen years ago. Richard died several years ago of cancer This week, the latest version of that school dies, after a couple name changes and a merger that never quite worked.
But sometimes, I remember those days like they were just yesterday.