Part of a storytelling dinner series in its 17th season.
Entrees choices this month: Corned Beef and Cabbage; Potato Crusted Salmon with Caper Beurre Blanc; or Vegetarian Stuffed Cabbage Rolls.
Story Sundays at the Glen Sanders Mansion, 1 Glen Ave., Scotia, NY. $36
Reservations Required: (518) 384-1700 Kate@KateDudding.com Please indicate how many of each entree is desired.
Former teacher's path is quite a story
Rebecca Isenhart December
4, 2014 Education, News, Niskayuna, People, Photo
Marni Gillard works with second graders as
they rehearse their bible story performance at St. Kateri Tekakwitha. Photo by
- For years, Marni Gillard encouraged middle school students in the Niskayuna
school district to follow their dreams. Then, she led by example and followed
63, said she thinks she would've been an actress if she had the support, when
she was young, that many kids have today. Instead, she became a teacher like
both of her parents.
like today where you really know a lot about the world of going into art
fields," she said. "My mother said, 'Just take the teaching courses,
professional path continued to unfold in the direction of performance and
expression. Today, Gillard is a professional storyteller who entertains the
old-fashioned way: live, in person, using just her voice.
Early years teaching
Fulton, N.Y., native became a teacher and started her career at Iroquois Middle
School in 1973. She had expected to be a high school teacher, but when she was
offered the middle school position she decided to give it a shot, and fell in
love with the job.
very young and certainly very naive and new," she said. "I hadn't really done a
lot of research about learning, except to take the typical college classes, but
I had this idea that kids have different gifts."
applied her creativity to lessons about reading and writing, since she was an
English Language Arts teacher. While she was exploring teaching techniques,
Gillard met a mentor who would ultimately change her path.
mentor was Lucy Calkins, founder of the Teachers College Reading and Writing
Project, an organization that conducts research and develops curriculum to
improve student learning in English Language Arts. When Gillard began attending
Calkins' workshops and classes, Calkins was in her early 30s and had already
developed a unique teaching style that really spoke to Gillard. "She talked to
me about writing in a way that no teacher had ever talked," Gillard said.
"Whatever it is that interests you in writing, let's go there."
She was at
the workshop to pick up teaching tips for work, but ended up learning a lot
about herself, too.
anybody working with her do their own writing, so I started doing some of my
own writing about my thinking and teaching," she said.
published in English Journal, Language Arts Magazine, and other teacher
publications. Working on her own writing inspired her.
was just alive with, 'How can I be the teacher I never had?' " Gillard
of Calkins' advising sessions changed her path permanently.
to say to me, as she did to all her students, 'I want you to think about
something that's your own focus,' " Gillard said.
Second graders act out their parts in a bible
story. Photo by Rebecca Isenhart
It was the
early 1980s, and Gillard had just attended a daylong workshop about
storytelling at SUNY Oneonta. The concept fascinated her. It wasn't just about
reading aloud; storytelling was a sort of combination of performance and
memorization. The product was fluid, dependent on the audience's reactions, and
never the same twice.
she learned about storytelling alongside her students. She used it as a device
to help them absorb important, grade-level subjects while enhancing their own
creative sides. She took students on field trips and to conferences.
Occasionally, she'd take a personal day to perform one of her own pieces.
of storytelling continued to tug at Gillard. Twice, she took yearlong leaves of
absence from teaching, without pay, to travel and practice storytelling.
her younger sister, a freelance musician, gave her the push she needed to
commit to her storytelling dreams. "She said, 'Why don't you just
quit?' " Gillard said.
she gathered the courage to do it. She decided to combine her storytelling with
her interest in spirituality. She earned a master's degree in theology from St.
Bernard's School in Albany.
teaching background is hardly in her past. In addition to recreational groups,
like a Capital Region story circle that meets and performs at Proctors, Gillard
now combines her teaching background with her love for spirituality and
storytelling by working with students at St. Kateri Tekakwitha school in
working with kids on making Bible stories," she said. "It starts by me telling
them the Bible stories."
try acting out the plot lines, improvising and eventually connecting with the
material. Like so many things she has tried, it's uncharted territory, and
encouraging children to improvise rarely goes as planned.
group is working on a performance piece for the church members, and the kids
are having plenty of fun. Second- through fifth-graders work with Gillard
throughout the day to learn and practice classic stories like David and
Marni Gillard enthusiastically praises her
storytelling students for a job well done. Photo by Rebecca Isenhart
took Gillard decades to arrive at her current career, she has few regrets about
the winding path she followed. It's hard to feel bad about inspiring young
people, after all.
couple of weeks ago, when author Anne Blankman visited Van Antwerp Middle
School to talk about writing to current students, Gillard was in the audience,
applauding. Blankman was one of Gillard's students at Iroquois.
with pride, Gillard greeted Blankman like an old friend, and they traded signed
books. Gillard gave Blankman a copy of her work, titled "Storyteller,
Storyteacher: Discovering the Power of Storytelling for Teaching and Living."
Gillard's work is also included in a brand-new book called "Stories We Tell:
Tales from the Story Circle of the Capital District."
near Central Park in Schenectady with her husband, Bill Wheeler, a former
Niskayuna math teacher.
addition to a sense of satisfaction about the good she was able to do as a
teacher, Gillard has a sense of acceptance about things that don't go exactly
as planned. The ability to navigate change and a willingness to try new things
was always part of her life.
parents taught her learning should be fun, and encouraged her to take risks.
That sentiment is contained in a story she loves to share with the children she
teaches, about her father, who died when she was a teenager.
learning how to dive," Gillard said. "I threw myself off the high diving board
and flipped all the way over and crashed on my back. My dad jumped in and said,
'You did it, baby!'
I was going to die," she continued. "That's life. You've got to keep trying."
Marni Gillard. Photo by Rebecca Isenhart
Second grade students tried to put down their scripts and tell
bible stories from memory during a recent rehearsal. Photo by Rebecca Isenhart
go over their scripts, which outline their roles in the bible stories they will
perform for their friends and family at St. Kateri Tekakwitha. Photo by Rebecca