I don’t teach weather well - I am uncomfortable with the content - oh, I get the basics, but it is not my strong point. So rather than not teach it (and I have tried that, but, we do have standards to cover), I applied for a professional development with GLOBE this summer to improve my skills.
I do this, well, a lot. I look for professional opportunities to push me as an educator out of my comfort zone. So, when we started talking about adding robotics to the curriculum, I was off to Connecticut to learn with the American Radio Relay Team. More about astronomy? Space Camp in Alabama. Get those students out of the classroom? No Teacher Left Inside in Northern Wisconsin. Learn more about our Great Lakes? A week on an EPA Research vessel on Lake Superior. Want to incorporate more history? WWII Museum in New Orleans.
Why? Why do I spend my winter searching out these (free) opportunities and writing applications for these programs and then my summers going to them? For one, I learn - a lot. Each of these has enhanced not only my content knowledge about an area, but I also come home with hands on activities to translate that knowledge into interactive, exciting lessons for my students.
Second, each of these opportunities has pushed me to grow. It isn’t easy to travel away from home and immerse yourself into a group of people you have never met and into a topic you may be feeling insecure about. I cried when I couldn’t understand the physics behind a radio telescope, re-soldered my circuit at least three times in the robotics class and I was deathly afraid of the water challenge at Space Camp. But I did it- I get the Physics now, my clock’s LED’s lit up and I did the water challenge. How? Well, with a new friend who walked me through the Physics, new friends who sat with me in the hotel lobby as I soldered (and re-soldered) and with a friend who literally held my hand during the Water Challenge. I learned a whole lot more than Physics - I remembered what it was like to be the student. It is good to be a student - to feel the insecurity of not knowing what to do or the fear of being wrong. It is amazing to feel the sense of accomplishment when your robot makes it through the course or when you finally identify the macro invertebrate you’ve been looking for. It is good to be in a situation you don’t control. If nothing else, you learn empathy for what our students feel those first days of middle school and you remember what it feels like to conquer something you tried.
But from these experiences, I also have gained an invaluable group of colleagues, mentors and friends. I have friends across the globe with whom I have shared rooms, meals, laughs and tears. I have friends who help when I am stuck, offer suggestions and criticisms and cheer me. These are people who may teach in a different town or part of the world, but who “get” what it is like to teach science to middle school students.
We all have responsibilities to our students and our schools, but we must not ignore the responsibility we have to ourselves to continue to grow. I love the Yeats quote, “Education is not the filling of a bucket but the lighting of a fire”. Keep your fires burning and you will find you have stoked your students’ fires as well.