In 9th grade biology, I learned about mitosis. Cell division isn’t something that typically sticks in the mind, much less that of a hormonal 15-year-old worried about student council elections, boners, and acne. The stages are so similar-sounding that they’re easily chased from memory when, say, an upperclassman asks you to Prom. But a decade later and a whole country away from high school, I still remember the phases of mitosis because of a story.
Our teacher, Ms. Watts*, was young, had a big laugh, stood all of five feet tall, had school-marm style, and bribed us with Tootsie Rolls for being the first person to shout out that ATP is “energy a cell can use.” The first day of the mitosis chapter, she stood in front of the class with her ubiquitous purple coffee mug in hand, waving it for emphasis as she talked. She laid out the five stages of the process, and you could feel the air glaze over with boredom.
And then, in a flash of insight that separates average teachers from great ones, she burst out with, “I pee more after ten.”
There was dead silence for a good five seconds. Then everyone burst out laughing. Of course we laughed (I bet you did, too) – she just said “pee” to a roomful of teenagers!
After the giggling died down, she explained.
“Every day, I drink two cups of coffee before school starts, then I hit it again around ten when I start to get sleepy. But every cup of coffee after that sends me to the bathroom because of all the caffeine. I take the coffee in; my body breaks it down, divides it up, and gets rid of it.
“Kind of like the phases of mitosis: IPMAT is interphase, prophase, metaphase, anaphase, and telophase, but it’s also ‘I pee more after ten.’ If you can link that acronym to my coffee addiction, it might help you guys remember for your test.”
And it did.
I’m a grown woman and still remember this little factoid because my teacher told me she drinks so much coffee she has to pee every hour on the hour after 10am.
I’m telling you that so I can tell you this: Your stories are important.
If Ms. Watts hadn’t revealed that smidgen of insight into her personal life, the less eggheaded students likely wouldn’t have passed mitosis. Because she told us this silly (true) story, we absorbed knowledge and got to know our teacher. When we found out she was leaving at the end of the year, students cried. All because she told us her bathroom schedule.
Life is a series of interrelated stories, and sharing them helps us connect with each other. That’s why we talk about ourselves so much – we’re trying to connect with other people who get it, who share our experience, who can supplement our growth with their own insights. We see ourselves in someone else’s story and use it to learn about our own lives. The more stories we tell, the more stories we hear, the more we grow, the more we connect, the more stories we have to tell.
So don’t hide what you have to say. Tell your stories – in writing, painting, dance, or just casual conversation – because they must be told.
No matter how silly, how embarrassing, how scary, how mundane, how boring you think your experience is, there is someone out there who needs to hear it.
* – I swear that’s her real name. Clearly, she was destined to be a science teacher.