Sometimes We Become the Student


As teachers, we often take for granted the process of learning. We make our lesson plans, target our learning objectives, and even map out a year of what we want our students to learn.

I sometimes think that learning is magic, a bit like alchemy. No matter the inputs, it feels amazing when students come up to me to spout fun Rio Grande facts or what they would do to help protect this river at risk. As a “non-formal” educator, I have been largely immune to state learning standards, but have always been happy to point out the connections to teachers who are hesitant to use precious class time for an “outside” environmental educator to do some classroom science teaching and nature activities.

This school year has made me think about learning in a completely new and different way. For one,  I’m slightly removed from my regular realm as a teacher, or a student learning about teaching. Instead, this fall, the environmental educator becomes the student. But, I’m not learning about teaching or education.

Funnily enough, I am closer to learning than I have been in what feels like a really long time. I am currently in my third week as a massage therapy student. Teaching is still of my life. But this is another dream I decided to pursue, as well). It has been years since I was in a classroom as a college or high school student. In our small class of 10, I am only one of two who have graduated from college. We all look at our learning apprehensively. How do we study? How do we learn more than 200 bones of the human body, the 600–800 plus muscles? How do we keep that knowledge in our brains so that it doesn’t become cram-fodder that falls out of the brain as quickly as it was crammed in?

I take notes. I make flash cards. I study like a diligent student that I haven’t been in most cases. I drive to school and review muscles actions. I dream of massage strokes. Sometimes, I just relax and let the material fly over me, as I release and then come back to review.

I pay attention to the instructors. Sometimes, in the midst of a boring class “read aloud” paragraph by paragraph of the anatomy text, I critique in my head the methods of the instructor. I think about how I am going to learn the material, and how I would teach it differently, interactively, excitingly. It’s easy to be the critical student, though. I have to remember that teaching doesn’t come easily to everyone, just the way that learning is different for each of us. It makes me appreciate teaching in a whole new way. As a new student, I am approaching my learning in weird way. I think that my teaching will never be the same, as a result.

Sometimes, we have to let go. We become the student. We sit in the back of the room and let the lecture wash over us. We come home, tired and excited, and stack the textbooks on the desk, with the overwhelming task of studying ahead of us. We help other students study. We appreciate the “hands-on” method of massage school. We dream of hiking field trips to the Rio Grande, and we find connections to the geography of the river with the anatomy of the human muscular and skeletal system. We find connections between environmental education and massage therapy. We relax. We let go. We relish becoming the student. We learn new ways of teaching. We take a breath and find new directions.

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

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