Friday, December 19, 2014

Notes from a First Year Teacher

I come home tired every night.

I thought it would be a breeze to teach 7th graders. They would be wowed by my professor-ness and would behave respectfully to me and to the rest of the students. They would also always raise their hand to talk and do all of their homework diligently so they can become the best citizen of Goshen possible…..

I come home tired every night.

Kenny Nolan swooned “I like dreamin’” in 1977 in regards to a lover.

In 2014 I dream of Goshen Middle School’s Points of Pride - responsibility, respect, productivity, courage, and integrity!

So what should I expect?


With this tiredness and the first year jitters my awe and admiration for the teachers of this world has magnified!

In Ernst Bloch’s The Principle of Hope he asks “Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going? What are we waiting for? What awaits us?” and I often ask that while waiting for my 12 year old scientists in front of my door at room 204. I see some so jovial because they are alive and social. But I also see those who don’t want to learn and have no desire to be in my class let alone school. They think school is miserable and wretched AND a social experiment….. woe is them….. woe is me…..

How do I approach apathy when talking about the earth’s layers - the lithosphere, aesthenosphere, mesosphere, outer core and inner core just doesn’t spur their inner fire?

To me it is incredibly flabbergasting with the knowledge that the earth is 4.5 billion years old, it has a core that is made of solid iron that is hotter than the surface of the sun!

I come home tired every night.

Tomorrow I’m going to start off class with something called a Bell Question and ask them to think about what the famous conservationist Aldo Leopold meant in his book Round River where he states “The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant, "What good is it?" If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.” I want them to think about their interconnectedness in all their arenas - which includes learning about earth science!

How do I teach this sustainability, care, stewardship, conservation that Dr. Leopold elaborates in his book or how do I teach just plain plate tectonics which is mandated by the state board of education to a student whose goal in life is to become a couch potato?? My wife talks a lot about where our foundation comes from is from their home life - their environment, their influence.

At Goshen Middle School, we utilize focus questions that tries to inspire them to think a little deeper, to grow beyond the same old/same old, to have “enduring understanding” - maybe that can instill the safeguarding that is needed by all citizens.

But Wow! Their excitement to be alive and with friends is exuberating! How do I appease my desire to teach and offer them opportunity to be super cool in front of their peers?

These past 3 months of teaching have been the most educational for me in the past I don’t know how long! What have I learned?
  • Psychology of 7th graders
  • Sociology of 7th graders
  • Anthropology of 7th graders
  • Anthropology of an administration
  • Politics of a school and
  • Psychology of myself (what I can or cannot do with 150 students!)
One of the main components that I never thought of in the past about teaching was classroom management and organization of ideas to enhance classroom management!

This experience makes me truly feel that all environmental educators must educate themselves about the ways of thinking like a teacher and maybe become a classroom teacher just for a brief moment to understand standard constraints, windows of curriculum, know that time is incredibly tight as well as finances, and that the reason why a teacher doesn’t do something you suggest is not because they don’t care for the environment – but a plethora of other reasons that hamper the possibilities of field trips but does not dampen the possibilities of motivating future scientists that can be the best citizens possible!

So an enormous question Environmental Education Association of Indiana needs to ask is how do we assist a teacher that is caught in standards based, financially strapped, time warped tough scenario? Help them with grants? Help them with curriculum? Help them on site more? I now understand and still don’t know how to answer those questions.


A student the other day asked me “is it true that it’s better to be cool than smart?” And I told him “the coolest person is the smartest in my opinion! One that thinks!”

A mother told me that she wanted to thank me because this is the first time her minority heritage daughter says she likes science!

I win!

Daily I must breathe so I can get oxygen to my brain and then I must think about how my desire for this year was to challenge myself in edu-taining seventh graders and helping excite them about science!

Time for a nap because tomorrow - in class - I save the world!

This is a letter from Paul Steury who used to be a very popular and successful naturalist at Merry Lea Envirormental Center for almost 10 years. It is interesting to see his impressions today, as a first year teacher in a Goshen, Indiana Middle School.


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