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My Teaching Takeaways - By Matt Ridenour

Posted by Paul Wiemerslage | Oct 30, 2015

Now that I have almost completed the Au Sable Environmental Education Internship, I have an opportunity to reflect on the way my perceptions of kids and teaching have changed over the last six weeks. I have found that while it is important to teach children facts and concepts, it is equally necessary to teach them to be interested in these facts and concepts. This has required learning what kids are interested in these days and how to make things that aren’t interesting become interesting.

The problem is not everything they should know will be of interest to them.  And therein lies the teacher’s predicament.  Determining what is necessary for the students to learn, and what methods will result in the greatest learning potential. In my short time teaching, I have found that environmental education with its emphasis on experiential learning is an extremely beneficial teaching practice.

I have learned that younger children are more likely to be enthusiastic, but also tend to loose their focus more readily. Generally, this enthusiasm is akin to nuclear power. It provides kids with the energy to have a productive day of learning, but if it is not properly controlled, catastrophe and property damage are likely to ensue. For the sake of brevity, the rest of the important lessons I have learned about children are presented in bullet form.

·      Children love fungi. Especially mushrooms and they often attempt to express this love by violently destroying them.

·      Children also love to lead. They know they are to stay behind their leaders, so they walk well in front of them so that they will be in the correct place should their leader decide to do a spontaneous 180. You have to admire their foresight.

·      Children do not have trains of thought. Trains have to stay on the rails. Children have ATV’s of thought.

·      Children understand the transience of life. For this reason, they know that they darn well better be line leader today because tomorrow may never happen.

·      Children do not understand how to sort recycling. “Do the tattered remains of my turkey sandwich go with cans or plastic?”

·      Children love to be helpful. To them, the smallest task is a weighty responsibility tantamount to carrying the One Ring to Mordor. Clipboards, buckets, and bug nets are borne with the solemn dignity of flags at a war hero’s funeral. As a leader, this can be a powerful bargaining tool.

Working with children has been both edifying and entertaining. While my career goals do not include teaching, I am glad that I had the opportunity to do it before entering my own career in the sciences. I hope that my love of the natural world came through in contagious ways for the students that I taught and interacted with and that their experience was positive and memorable.