Teaching Transformations: Taking the Leap as an Educator

— NOTES FROM NEW MEXICO

By KARY SCHUMPERT

As a classroom-based environmental educator, I follow the same schedule as most public school teachers. In the two-month breaks, I usually pursue other educational employment, and when possible, professional development. For the majority of my teaching time, I have worked with elementary students. If you asked me two weeks ago, I would have told you that elementary is my preference, and also the age group that is reached by my talents. Leave it to some middle school and high school students to shake up my teaching world in the last few days. A wonderful, eye-opening epiphany has occurred. Maybe I’d like to pursue secondary education and science teaching?

There’s nothing like a professional dust-up, a clearing away of the assumptions, an epiphany that I really had no clue was there. This surprise is one of the best I have ever had. I didn’t know that I would love high school students. I didn’t know that I would love helping them learn to teach. I didn’t know that I would relish teaching in a new way. I didn’t know that I would enjoy creating science stations for high school volunteers to share with visitors of all ages to a local botanic garden. I didn’t know that I would love this season in my teaching. In fact, I have been slightly worried about this summer. I was worried that I wouldn’t fit and that I wouldn’t find magic like I do in classroom-based environmental education.

I am scouring science texts and old environmental education curricula to create stations to engage visitors with the help of teenage volunteers. Everything is new, and yet not completely. I have long worked in nonformal education, but always for a school setting, for a class of kids at a time. I have never really thought about how to engage passersby.

My mind is free, and like a lotus flower opening up wide. All of a sudden my teaching parameters have been thrown out the window. I assumed working with high school students would be difficult for me. They are a joy! I assumed having just a few moments to create a learning opportunity would be tricky. It is, but it’s a fun challenge. I assumed that having relatively unstructured time for teaching would be weird. What’s that saying about one who assumes? Assume much and leave out a lot. Let expectations go and see what comes up in their place.

I am still using my nonformal teaching background, but it’s so fun to get a chance to mix it up a little bit. I’m taking old lesson plans and thinking of my points of entry in a new way. In teaching high school students how to teach and how to engage others, I’m thinking about my teaching in a completely different way. How often do we get to completely reinvent what we do?

I am only two weeks into the season, and I’m ready to rip the rug out from under me (think of a magician whisking a table cloth away while not disturbing any of the tabletop items).

I moved to New Mexico almost two years ago. I was hoping to begin an elementary teaching licensure program once I got settled. Almost by accident, I landed a job as an environmental educator and put my teaching licensure plans on hold. All of a sudden, I’m remembering when I first fell in love with teaching, when I was still very green (pardon the pun) as an environmental educator. I’m right back where I was, falling in love with teaching and students all over again. It’s not that I was ever out of love, but it helps to be reminded of what awakened the passion, what ignited the fire.

The seasons change. The years pass. Teaching philosophies go in and out of style. We try new methods. We find what seems to work and go with it, often creatures of our own habits and methods. Suddenly, though, a spark is there again. We seek new. We seek a new path.

It’s too soon to see what my next teaching adventure will be, but I think the stuff that I have long talked about is finally coming to be. It’s time to put up and shut up. It’s time to find a way to take my newly lit spark and share it. It’s time to try new and escape old, dusty paths.

What will spark for you? Will it be a new student? A new co-worker? A break? A throw everything out and see what remains approach?

What terrifies you? What terrifies me is partly what is igniting my new path, but in a creative, exciting way. I can’t wait to see what will come next.

Kary Schumpert is an environmental educator, a writer, and a student in Albuquerque. She finds her greatest sense of place and inspiration in New Mexico. Kary loves composting with worms, running, hiking, swimming, writing, teaching, and learning, among many things. Kary is a contributing editor to The Community Works Journal and her writing has also appeared in Green Teacher, Elephant Journal, New Leaf Meditation Project, and The Upper Room. She keeps a personal blog at runningintolife.wordpress.com.

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