For the last four months, I’ve noticed something about myself that is weird! I consider myself an odd person anyway, so it’s not that unusual to have a thought like this. However, the odd behavior is something I noticed myself doing over and over.
When asked to give my background or cite experience, I often start out by saying that I have a nursing degree! Why?! Why, I ask myself! Why am I doing this? I have not worked as a nurse in over twenty years! Furthermore, I don’t even think of myself as a nurse in any way, any more! Yet, that is one of the first things to pop out of my mouth!
Most recently, I noticed this at a committee meeting last week when I needed to give some background on myself. I also noticed that at a work event, where as the organizer, I failed to introduce myself! I think I was so caught up in speaking about the organization for which I work, I completely forgot to tell them anything about myself! It wasn’t until the intern that was helping us host the event stated she was an assistant at the facility for environmental education, that I realized what I had done! I thought, but wait a minute! I am an environmental educator – with an advanced degree, no less! Why am I not talking about this credential?
I am very puzzled by it. One of the reasons I went back to school in middle age was to give myself legitimate authority in the field of environmental education. And, now I am not crediting myself with that authority? Odd. Very odd.
The other thing that is strange, is that I cannot seem to let go of my work with gifted children! For years I was a student advocate for the gifted and talented students and their families in our school district. Lately, I find myself engaged in conversation and relating these experiences from over ten years ago! Again, why? Why am I doing this?
My background in working with students and children of all ages is important to my current job. My understanding of growth and development is also important. I think in some way I am trying to communicate those attributes. After all, I have over 35 years of experience in working with children of all ages through as a healthcare provider, college instructor, substitute teacher, non-formal educator, and volunteer! I also developed a student group that ran for 13 years during which I serviced 500 students who wanted to be part of an after school club I facilitated. That number translates into having 38 students a year over 13 years!
But, remembering all this does not seem to be at the tip of my tongue when I need to speak about myself. I either: 1) forget to talk about myself at all, or 2) neglect to cite the credential that is most pertinent to the task at hand – that of being an environmental educator with an advanced degree in the field and 15 years of experience of providing hands-on environmentally based, interdisciplinary lessons. Or, I state something quickly that might not make much sense for the sake of not taking up too much time from those listening.
I also made the mistake of stating I did not know what was “taught” as an outing that occurred before I had my current job. Quickly, I was corrected by a person who told me, “nothing was taught, the students were provided experiences.” This simple phrase made me realize something they warned us about in graduate school for environmental education.
It is that there are many ways in environmental education to obtain similar outcomes. The other point that was revealed to me was that by using the word teach, I meant what environmental educators do – provide hands-on experiential education. I think that when I used the word “teach” it almost sounded like a vulgarity to those listening to me. But, in reality, since all I have done for 15 years is teach in an experiential manner, the word has become synonymous for me with “doing” not just sitting in a classroom. Obviously, that is not the case for all and I had better be more clear about what I say.
The warnings were real. There are many ways of providing environmental education. But, when something works, as it did for my groups of students, who returned again and again for our forty-five minutes of interactive discussion and a forty five minute project each month, it is what I refer to as teaching. My experiences, both in what I have done in the past, what I choose to talk about with others, and how I define environmental education will guide my role in the profession as it forms in the future. I just have to remember to include this when I talk about myself, for I am no longer a nurse. I am a teacher, and that is what I need to say.