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Education is life: a reflection on passion and learning

Issue: Volume 97, Number 3

Posted: 26 February 2018
Reference #: 1H9hb3

 

I recently attended a very good conference about teaching. I got a lot of tips and ideas I could try in my classroom, but I also must admit that I started to feel a little bit inadequate. It seems that presenters at these events focus only on success – which is understandable. What you don’t hear about are the disasters, the ideas that didn’t work, the frustrations. And I think that if we’re encouraging teachers and learners to be innovative and take risks, we need to talk about those things.

You don’t hear about the pressures that are on teachers; you don’t hear about the child who sits in the corner refusing to be engaged by anything, and those moments when we’re just not sure what to do or who to turn to. At this conference, I tried to remember that the teacher presenting must run into the same challenges that we all deal with. Because however you frame it, teaching, like life, can get messy.

Messiness can take the form of, say, trying to enter assessments, and you realise that three students haven’t completed theirs. Or, you still haven’t got those permission slips back and the trip is tomorrow. Or you have gotten so tied up in your inquiry project that you’ve lost sight of the original achievement objectives.

To me, John Dewey is a member of that inspirational group of people like Galileo and Plato who were born before their time. He said, “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself”.

And that sort of sums up the point I’m trying to make here: education, like life, doesn’t always go to plan. Sometimes plans don’t work out; sometimes our best intentions and ideas simply don’t hit the mark. Projects don’t get finished, plans are interrupted and some days you just want to stay in bed.

I believe that the teaching profession should be talking more about how to manage those risks we take that don’t come off – how to stay positive when our great ideas don’t pan out. And  I believe that one way we can model strategies for coping when we come up short – both teachers and students – is to focus on our passion.

In 2017 I moved to a new school. There is something very special about this school. It has a small patch of native bush on the grounds. As someone who loves the outdoors, I was excited about getting in there and quickly formed a Nature Club. What I wanted to do was to share my passion with those who might be interested.

We tell kids to follow their passions, and we give them strategies for coping when the less interesting stuff is necessary. I always model this to my class. I tell them about how I always try to complete the hardest activity first so that it is not hanging over me (I also eat the veggies first and the chicken last). Mostly, though, I try to encourage my students to get out there and do something – do something fun, do something they are good at, do something that makes them laugh.

On our Nature Club’s first foray into the native bush, we found a large fern, which we stood under. We thought it might be a silver fern but didn’t really know, as it was gloomy and dark. I took a flash photo and when we looked at in class, it shone bright silver. The students were really blown away. It was one of those moments that all teachers know: that moment you get sometimes when everything falls into place and you know you are onto something special and engaging.

The more we spent time in this little patch of bush, the more we saw. We started seeing and hearing birds. The students researched them. We found an intricate spider web and adopted Carlos, a large tunnelweb spider, who seemed to sparkle if we caught him in the sun. We saw baby fantails with no tails and watched them grow every day. Students loved the trees, staring at and touching them and the fungi growing on the trunks. They were allowed to claim the tree and name it after themselves, if they found out what species it was.

During the autumn and winter months we began to remove the Tradescantia that choked our native ferns. We found big bugs and skinks.

Students collected cicada shells by the hatload. Then we moved on from awe and wonder to taking action. We invited a ranger to visit us and the kids were thrilled to be able to show off their knowledge. The children were directing their own learning: they worked out what they were interested in, and found out all they could about it.

Since then, our Nature Club community has mushroomed. We have built weta motels, rat traps, lizard lounges and are continuing to learn how to preserve this incredible resource. Older students take the juniors for treasure hunts; we found a ruru roosting; the council visited us and asked us to participate in several regional programmes; we were written about in the local newspaper; we have made ties with the local college; and we have visited several nature reserves in the lower North Island.

Every time we meet adults during these activities, they are inspired and awed by how much the students know and their passion.

The moral of the story for me is this: we all have bad days. If we can teach students to be passionate about the world around them, those bad days are just stepping stones.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 9:00 am, 26 February 2018

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