A Personal Metaphor: Shared for Slice of Life Tuesday

Slice of Life Tuesday crept up on me this week. Notably, we’ve had the college graduation of our oldest son and the death of one of our dear cats, Clark. Additionally, I’ve seen many posts about summer learning, and even written an educationally themed post mid-week on Positive Behavior Intervention & Supports (PBIS).  Our fruit trees are blooming, blue birds are nesting, and I cut the grass for the first time in many years, just to help out my husband, who is swamped with projects of his own right now. But, since my head is spinning, I thought I would offer a creative piece I wrote for a course that just ended on teaching and learning. The writing was an assignment, written and completed ess than two weeks ago. While I did not look forward to writing this piece, it began to gel as I wrote. It is an exercise that upon completing, I was filled with satisfaction and more sure that it was a worth-while endeavor. What follows is my personal metaphor for teaching and learning. Thank you, Professor Cook!

I am an Adult Monarch Butterfly!

The Monarch is a rare creature, delicate looking but strong, brave, very self-directed, and whose life depends on one plant. There are four life-cycle stages: 1) egg, 2) larva, 3) chrysalis, and 4) adult. Life is a journey in more ways than one. It is these traits that I identify with as I have learned about monarchs over the last 14 years. I also identify with the process and value of transformation, something both the monarch and I have experienced. I hold the belief that teaching needs to be transformative, not transactional, when working with students. In the book, Models of Teaching, the authors tell us many ways in which we can adapt our teaching to fit the needs of our students, allowing for transformation to occur (Joyce, Weil, & Calhoun, 2015). Adaptation is critical, whether it be for a nurse turned stay at home mom turned non-formal educator, a student learning in a system that does not teach how he/she learns, or the monarch attempting to survive lack of habitat. As authors Joyce, Weil, and Calhoun put it on page 365 of this book, “significant learning is frequently accompanied by discomfort.” Without adaptation (following the discomfort) and transformation, there is no learning and consequently, there is no life.  “Learning means changing.” (Joyce, et.al., 2015).

As an Adult Monarch Butterfly, I have passed through these stages, and changed – not just developed, but truly changed along the way. The stages are akin to a human’s developmental stages. While the timeframe each stage possesses varies according to the species, I have passed through the stages, just like the monarch. Each stage is essential and has significance.  Without the stage before, there can be no further development, or “next” stage.

We are all “eggs” at one point in our lives. The baby stage. Comparatively, my “egg” stage was longer than a monarch but still short. As a child born to a teacher and self-taught data manager, I was curious, intelligent, and introverted – a shy wisp of a thing who only aimed to please my teachers and my family.

Hatching out of the egg, the monarch larva eats its eggshell first and then the milkweed leaves on which it was born. Milkweed is the monarch’s only nourishment, as knowledge is mine. My eggshell were the lessons of my family, loving parents and grandparents, as well as a cherished sister. As soon as I had a taste of knowledge, my hunger for it grew. Just as a monarch caterpillar eats more and more milkweed, I hungered for more and more information. Through my primary and secondary education, and my initial college degree, my only food was information. I thrived on it. It was readily available – everywhere. I dined on it daily, as it seemed to be the only food I needed. During my college and graduate school programs for nursing, I fed my thirst and hunger by devouring more science and facts, nourishing me as I grew, needing no other food. Work was secondary to learning, just as moving from milkweed plant to milkweed plant is secondary to eating for the monarch.

There are five stages of my development as an educator that coincide with the five instars of the Monarch caterpillar. Essentially, the caterpillars are still the same being, but are getting larger. Just as I was the same being, only gathering more information. During the first instar, I was home learning from family during formative years. The second instar for me were my K-12 schooling years. The third instar was spent getting my baccalaureate degree in nursing. My fourth instar was getting my graduate nursing degree and working as a nationally certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner. I was “plump” with knowledge by then, just as the caterpillar is plump from devouring milkweed. Finally, the fifth instar was a period of self-examination, staying home with my children, volunteering, and developing enrichment programs for students.  I reached the 5th instar stage about 14 years ago while searching for more food (knowledge). The fifth instar monarch caterpillar is huge, increasing its size many times over since birth, just as I increased my knowledge many times over. This happens until a signal is received from nature for the caterpillar and inspired by acquired knowledge of nature for me.

I pupated (Stage 3) and metamorphosis took place as I left my nursing career behind to emerge as a teacher. Although, I believe that being a teacher is what I was meant to be, just as the monarch caterpillar is meant to be a butterfly! It is a new life!

Being an adult monarch is hard. I flit from student to student never really having them as my own (as I am an informal educator), but needing them and developing relationships with them along the way. They are the source of my purpose and my inspiration. This is just as the monarch butterfly flits from flower to flower, needing their nectar and visiting with them for sustenance, leaving their beauty behind to find another.  Both of us are fighting for survival, me as a non-formal educator, and the monarch, as it seeks habitat.

My quest for knowledge has been entirely self-directed, just as the long journey of migration is completely self-directed for the monarch. I must be a late season adult monarch then, one who must sustain myself for the long journey to Mexico that lies ahead.  It has become apparent that my journey will be long as well, as a non-formal educator.

I know I will not survive all environments as some do not accept me or provide me a welcome place to share the results of my nourishment (their classroom). The monarch cannot survive without milkweed or habitat. In the same vein, I will not survive if I cannot share the results of my metamorphosis – knowledge, a love of learning, adaptation, self-direction, and transformation – in essence, passion. These are traits all students need to navigate the educational system today.  Traits we hope to impart through modeling and models, such as myself, that it can be done.

If I am lucky enough to survive, (and I might not as they sprayed my garden home with pesticide today – truly, they did), I will continue to try to inspire our youth to care for the home we share – our earth.  It doesn’t matter what country you travel to or call home, the U.S., Canada, or Mexico – such as the monarchs as they migrate, we need to provide and care for those that are with us; Butterflies or Students. This means adaptations to fit their needs. If students are not learning with an inductive model, try direct instruction; if students are not learning with direct instruction, try experiential or project based learning. It is up to us, teachers or butterflies, to adapt to our surroundings.  Right now, we have a better chance than the Monarchs. We both need our youth to survive. Let us provide the right environment or habitat.

I believe that a major tenant of all the models discussed in the text Models of Teaching (2015) was transformation.  We want our teaching to be transformational for our students. This means being vulnerable. It means learning new things from each other and adapting to new methods and new surroundings. This is no better described than in The Power to Transform by Stephanie Pace Marshall (2006).

Another theme of all the models in the text, Models of Teaching (2015), was teaching students to learn and use strategies, the strategies we model as teachers.  Strategical adaptation is as essential for learning as it is a survival tactic for monarchs. Unfortunately, as they are not sentient beings, monarchs do not have the ability to be strategic. We do. We must.

In so far as I have transformed myself, I wish to be the inspiration for future transformations and encourage others to fly as far as they can.

I am an adult monarch butterfly.


Joyce, B., Weil, M., Calhoun, E. (2015). Models of Teaching,06). 9th edition. Pearson, Boston,       MA.

Marshall, S.P. (2006). The Power to Transform. John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, NJ.

7 thoughts

  1. What a beautiful image you have created. I love the quote about “significant learning is frequently accompanied by discomfort.” It’s hard to remember that sometimes discomfort is good.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words! It was a great exercise and one that goes to show how you never know how things will turn out, even if you dread writing it at the outset. I am grateful to this professor for this assignment.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love this metaphor! I think it is so cool to learn about the migratory patterns of the monarch. Somehow, the knowledge of when, where, and how to migrate is passed through generations so that the monarch who starts out on the migratory path is not the same monarch who finishes the cycle. Fascinating thoughts about transformation! Thank you so much.

    Liked by 1 person

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