Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Back to School

Those of us in the education field know that August is more than the dog days of summer, it also marks the end of summer break and the beginning of a new school year.  Nervous energy starts to set in as we try to imagine how to prepare our classrooms and meet the incoming classes of students.  My son Ben is a first year teacher in a Detroit Waldorf school.  I've been teaching for many years and we are both filled with a level of excitement and nervousness that does not seem to diminish over time.  Every year is a new beginning, with a new group of students and new goals that will be set and re-set as we face the challenges and surprises that await us.  It is always a bit thrilling and overwhelming and it never gets old.

If teaching were the "filling of a pail," it would be so much simpler.  We could test, train, re-test and be done and move on.  The information could be filed in an organized hard-drive brain and retrieved as needed.  Those of us who have been in the education field for awhile and those of us who have been students of life for awhile, know that education is much more akin to the "lighting of a fire" than the "filling of a pail" or the filing of data into the brain.   How does one light the fire to think and learn?  This is where education becomes an art.  Each teacher brings his/her unique set of skills and knowledge to this art project we call education.  Each student brings his/her unique set of skills, needs and knowledge to the project.  It is always a work in process and it is always unique to the individuals creating it.  It's never a finished product because we are never done learning.  With any luck, some of us will find a passion for a subject matter and a fire will be lit.  And when a fire is lit (in any educational area) learning becomes an adventure into knowledge that we never lose or forget.  It is knowledge that gets seared into our hearts.  That's the art of it all.

Male monarch raised from egg

This summer, I've been raising monarch butterflies.  I have been finding eggs on milkweed and I've been raising them up through their transformation into butterflies.  I've started a butterfly garden in my backyard and loaded it will baby milkweed.  On the smallest plants I'm finding eggs!  It's exciting.  I've got approximately 16 monarchs in various stages in my house.  A couple of weeks ago, I shared several eggs and caterpillars with friends so that they can also catch the monarch excitement.  It's a wonderful project.  Ilse Gebhard, Russ Schipper, Erik Mollenhauer, Cindy and Paul Wackerbarth and Brian Hayes are all part of the "lightening of my fire" for monarchs.  I will never be the same and I can't thank them enough.  (The previous blog details a bit of this process and story.)  I will bring my monarch lessons into the classroom again this year and share my love of this amazing insect with my students.  We will read, write and examine monarchs and their impact on our society in the context of our fourth grade curriculum and objectives.  I can't wait to share the excitement!

I have also been reading a wonderful book written by acclaimed poet and writer Georgia Heard entitled, Awakening the Heart; Exploring Poetry in Elementary and Middle School.  I hope to set up my writing workshop with a poetic sensibility.  Georgia Heard has lots of great ideas for encouraging students to discover words and images from their own lives and bring them to light in the written word.  Her book speaks to "lightening a fire" for writing that has captivated me and I hope helps me captivate my students as they develop their writing skills.  I will also be bringing in lessons I've learned from the outdoor education workshop, Voices From the Land (detailed in a previous blog). Brian, Erik, Cindy and Paul are masters at "lighting the fires" of learning through listening to the landscape and  through nature study.  I hope to share some of that excitement with my students this year.

I would be remiss, if I did not mention Russ Schipper's gift for sharing his love of birds with me and my students.  For the past several years, Russ has volunteered in my classroom (along with the other fourth grade classrooms) to light some fires for learning about birds.  My students have learned observational skills, non-fiction reading skills, adaptation lessons and many other important thinking skills through the study of birds and Russ' help with the Cornell Backyard Bird Count.  I hope we can continue that tradition in the year ahead and for years to come!

This summer has been a time for rejuvenation, study and the lighting of my fire.  To all the students and teachers out there, here's to the messy art project we call education!  May we light some fires and share the love of learning with those we meet in the days ahead!

Peace and Love.