On Friday, October 3rd a group of students from Johnson University’s Templar School of Education traveled to Jonesborough, Tennessee to participate in the annual National Storytelling Festival. Jonesborough— the oldest town in Tennessee— is a tiny town nestled in the hills of Appalachia. It is rich with stories of its own, but for one special weekend each fall, it becomes the grand doorway into a multitude of stories. People travel from near and far to participate in the archaic art of “Story Telling.” Upon arrival, observers notice the enormous white tents set up around town—each of which containing hundreds of seats for people to rest on while they listen to the story tellers spin their mad tales. Local vendors flood the streets, selling goods ranging from home-knitted hammocks to fresh butternut squash soup while people mill about, traveling from tent to tent to hear more stories. Each sense is alert in this mesmerizing environment.
Johnson University’s Templar School of Education has been attending this event for many years now. Karen Eastep, the Field Experience Coordinator for the Templar School of Education, has attended for fourteen consecutive years. Her eyes shone brightly as she expressed her enthusiasm for this event: “I will be forever grateful to David Wheeler for introducing me to the National Storytelling Festival when I was in his Ministry to Youth and Children class as an undergraduate student. Seeing the power and effectiveness of storytelling in action is absolutely amazing.” Because of Ms. Eastep’s relentless gusto for this event, she began investigating the possibility of having Teacher Education students attend this festival in order to meet certain class requirements. Her efforts proved fruitful, and a group from Johnson University has been attending nearly every year since then. When asked about the day’s experience, junior Kaitlyn Ramirez expressed, “For future teachers, this was a valuable experience in many ways. Sitting in tents and listening to stories made us think and feel like kids again. It reminded me what it feels like to hear an exciting story! As teachers, entertaining is part of our job description, and if we are good story tellers, students are definitely more apt to listen closely.” This “listening closely” is perhaps what storytelling is all about. It is an invitation to lean in and be present in the story—be it a fairy tale, a historical account, or our own stories enacted day to day in this life. The Storytelling Festival serves as a potent reminder that we are each in the thick of a story that is much bigger than our own realities. May we be active listeners indeed.