This post is my contribution to the October APLS Blog Carnival, which will be hosted here at Farmer’s Daughter on October 15.
My education as an environmentalist began before I can even remember. Growing up on my family’s farm in Connecticut, I learned the value of respecting our land, air and water, the wonderful options for local foods throughout the seasons, and a love of the outdoors and science. My brothers, cousins and I would always giggle when people visiting the farm were ignorant of the natural world. We’d whisper to each other: That’s a miniature horse, not a pony! Christmas trees make sap, not nectar! Of course we don’t have our own corn yet, it’s only June! Although we were children, our everyday experiences made us wise about the natural world.
I followed my love of the natural world into college. I knew I loved science, and decided to major in biology and become a teacher. I focused mostly on animal anatomy and genetics, because I found these areas challenging and fascinating. My most favorite class came in my senior year, and it’s a surprise to even me that I loved it so much. Entomology. That’s right: the study of insects. Now, it wasn’t the subject matter that made it wonderful, it was the way we learned. We’d spend at least a few hours each week outside, with nets, wandering around campus or other natural habitats, catching bugs. I suddenly realized what my dad had told me all along: you can learn a lot more outside than you can in a classroom!
At 22 years old, I started teaching high school biology. I was surprised about how little my students knew about the natural world, so I began to incorporate regular discussions about the environment, plants and animals into the curriculum. My friend Sue, a teacher who has played the role of mentor and friend to me, introduced me to the AP Environmental Science course. We shared a classroom, and I would find myself spending my preparation period sitting in her classroom listening and learning more about the environment. Sue and I discuss environmental issues, and I see Sue as a role model for me in how she lives her life. I’ve learned a lot about living sustainably from her, and a lot about teaching, too. After two years teaching biology, I got the chance to teach AP Environmental Science, since there were enough classes for two teachers. Sue continued mentoring me, helping me take on the challenging material and helping me develop lessons. I read articles, books, searched the Internet, and had many discussions with many different people to learn about the environment. As any teacher will tell you, the best way to learn is to teach. I absolutely love teaching about the environment, and have since written and implemented a Botany course as well.
Now in my sixth year teaching, I have decided to go back to get a second MS degree in Environmental Education. After my visit to the Island School, I decided to continue my education because I feel like there’s still a lot for me to learn. I’m currently taking a course about political and legal issues in environmental education, and I feel like it couldn’t have come at a better time. I know that a life-long learner is never finished with her education.
Since this month’s topic has to do with how I educate others as well as myself, I’m going to include a little bit about my teaching philosophy. I think that a lot of folks were put off by the topic of educating others. I want to clarify that education is not about forcing your own beliefs on someone else. In the classroom, I try to give students the information that they need in order to make their own decisions about environmental issues. I don’t preach about the negatives of petroleum. We explore all of the issues associated with petroleum, from how it’s formed to the chemistry involved in burning it, from the economic to the political issues, from how it affects the planet to how it affects each student as an individual. I never tell students what to believe, just like I never tell them who I’m voting for. Instead, I’m a role model for my students, and encourage them to make their own decisions.
I try to do the same when I’m talking to my friends and family members. I’m not judgemental, and I don’t preach to them. I’ll explain why I make the choices I do, but I’m never disrespectful about their choices. And I try to never get into arguments about the environment. I like to listen to what others have to say, and discuss the issues with them, not fight about them. I think that’s just my nature.
I know that many folks this month will be writing about how they educate their own children about the environment and sustainable living. I really look forward to passing on my love of nature, the outdoors and the environment to my own children someday. But I know I’ll always have students eager to get outdoors or into the greenhouse and learn about the environment.