We also share something else – huge smiles and exciting stories from our days in the field.
As a first year educator at the Field Station, I have only been on the Eastern Shore since February. In that relatively short amount of time, my brain has been packed full of marine ecology facts, interpretation techniques, and first-aid knowledge. The initial training was daunting. As a native Michigander, making the transition to an entirely new part of the country and shifting my environmental training from “fresh water” to “salt water” was a challenge. Now, almost three months later, I realize that this job isn’t necessarily about the skills I will gain or the lessons I will personally learn, but the experiences I have with the kids and campers who visit the field station. Those experiences in the field will be what I carry with me into my future.
I came upon this realization within just the past few days. While each group I have taught to date has been extremely enjoyable with their own set of ups (a herd of Chincoteague ponies walking by during maritime forest class) and downs (pouring rain and a trawl net full of Boring Sponge), my most recent group reminded me why I wanted to be an environmental educator in the first place. While each day was long – often tipping over the 13 hour mark, and I won’t deny falling face first onto my bed at the end of each day, I genuinely looked forward to waking up, going into work, and teaching the group of 8th graders I was placed with this past week.
There was a tangible energy and excitement with these twenty-four students that naturally spread to me and my co-educator Kirstie. Despite the biting gnats on our boat trip, I didn’t hear a single complaint. Instead, they all crowded around our recently found Diamondback terrapin, eager for a closer look. That same day, I had to practically drag them out of the intertidal zone because they wanted to keep looking for organisms with their sieve boxes. The student’s easily worked together, whether they were friends or not, and were all trying new things – like being covered from head to toe in marsh mud.
The long hours are forgotten when you hear students exclaim, “That was so much fun!” as they get back on the bus after a couple of hours exploring the coastal landscape; and when you get a big, “Thank you!” at the end of the day. I often worry about the future of our world and the health of the environment. I am a firm believer that it takes early exposure to the outdoors, educational or not, to set root the ideals that later lead to individuals making an effort to minimize our human impact on the world. I worry a little less when I send a class home at the end of three solid days outdoors. Their bags are full of shells. Their clothes are muddy. And they have stories about their time at CBFS that they too can now carry on with them.