Going Out with Hope

Yesterday was my last day of work at a job I’ve only had a little more than 8 months. It was a job I wanted, a job I was given the opportunity to have, and a job in what I was educated to do – be an environmental educator.  But, alas, the job was not a great fit for me personally. There are many reasons for this, most of which I will not explore on my blog, but essentially this environmental educator needed to educate more.

There were facets of this job that they don’t tell you about in graduate school and thus, I went in with naive anticipation, even though I was confident in my teaching skill and passion.  Although I planned my garden club logistics, meetings, and curriculum for fifteen years prior and communicated closely with teachers, administrators, community members, and parents during that time, I was not prepared for the outreach component of this job.  Nor did the outreach fit my definition of being educational. So, since the outreach consisted mostly of event planning – both large and small, and included a very heavy schedule with some hidden challenges leftover from my predecessor, it took about 80% of my time each week. I tried but was unable to make a significant reduction in the outreach hours.

This sounds excessive, and maybe it was made so by my attention to detail. However, that attention to detail, in my opinion, also made the events successful.  And, once one event was over, another two, three, or four were always looming on the horizon.  I don’t remember anyone, even other students I knew in school who concurrently worked for the USFWS, DNR, or owned their own nature-based company such as Oliver, who was from Brazil, ever talking about the demands of outreach.

And, then there were the meetings, grant writing, and networking. These job requirements also took much more time than I thought they would. More things they don’t tell you about in school. I clearly did not understand the time commitment involved in those tasks.

So, for the last eight months, I was able to be an environmental educator for only a very small portion of the time. Mostly, I planned events. Of course, I worked with coworkers, but my job entailed the bulk of the planning and implementation.  Although the events were successful, by anyone’s account, they drained me of my passion for the job. I kept thinking, I am a teacher, not a party planner. I must have misunderstood what was involved. So, after a lot of deliberation, I resigned from a job that I was initially very excited to have had the chance to hold.

You know, this is not rare in the world of conservation or environmental education. I’ve written before about how the field fits more in the realm of young, mobile people.  Nature Preserves, State and National Parks, Outdoor Classrooms – they all routinely employ environmental educators for a season – a mere few months at a time.  So, leaving this position after just eight months was not all that uncommon in the grand scheme of things. But, it was hard for me to go. I wish it had been different. I truly do.

Finally, when I realized that the outreach component was causing me much undue stress, I resigned.  As I mentioned, my last day was yesterday,  But, as it turned out, the day happened to be when I had planned an outing with some local seventh-grade teachers to collect seeds on New Amsterdam Grasslands with their students.  It turned out to be one of the best days I’ve had at an event. There are reasons for that, again, most of which I will not explain here.  One large reason it was enjoyable is that it was an event easily planned without a lot of need for discussion. The teachers asked, could I do it? And, my response was, yes, of course, I’d be happy to. That was it. No mess, no fuss, and no interference based on misperceived conceptions of what it should be or even could be.

I will tell you that it was an event without fluff – there was teaching about plants, about the prairie, about wildlife – there were enthusiastic, curious students anxious to see who could collect the most native grassland plant seeds in their grocery bag.  They were engaged, learning, and having fun – all at the same time. This was place-based, experiential service-learning at its best! Their teachers are dedicated to this type of learning: year-round nature-based learning. The kids? They’re so lucky to have these experiences whether they know it now or not.  Our goal – engage youth in nature, have them learn – even one thing – while they are there, and hopefully, they’ll end up wanting to engage more – in the future – with family, friends, and more students.  They collected seeds, while we planted the seed of environmental stewardship.

Over these eight months, I have had the privilege of working with many students. I’ve taught about prairies, monarchs, forests, and citizen science to many different groups and grade levels. It was the best part of this job. And, it is a part I can and will continue to perform as a community environmental educator.

What I experienced yesterday was a ray of hope. It was hope for the future of our earth, hope for my role in educating about it, and hope for myself in moving forward. Indeed, I found a seed in the grasslands yesterday, it was the seed of hope and resilience.

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