About a month ago, the elementary school that my sister teaches at (PS 212 in Jackson Heights, Queens) invited me to be a guest speaker there. Believe it or not, I wasn’t invited to talk to them about books or literature. I was invited as geologist!
I spent about 6 months between my M.A. and Ph.D. working at a gold prospect in the Alaskan Interior. The prospect was a large scale operation, and they a number of renowned geologists working there to analyze core samples, decipher stratification, plan extraction, etc. Aside from those “top” geologists, there were about 15 other geologists who were by my side 18 hours a day, 7 days a week, teaching me the ins and outs of field geology. I certainly don’t consider myself an expert, but I may be able to get by as a geologist minor.
So, PS 212 invited me to speak about my experiences with rocks, minerals, plate tectonics, mining, and all things in between. I brought about 15 samples with me to pass around- everything from quartz intrusions to pyrite to ultramafics, sedimentary to metamorphic to igneous, rock I’ve polished and turned into clocks or drink coasters, and rocks I’ve found high in the Alaskan mountains that contain fossils from the ocean floor. I also brought in the bone of a moose jaw that I found on an Alaskan riverbank, still with the teeth set in it and all.
I played the part of a wild, outdoorsy geologist, too. I dressed up in my knee-high boots, my Carhartts, my headlamp, my leather gloves, and safety goggles. The students loved it! They were so excited to see rocks that had stories behind them or minerals that had immense monetary value behind them. I think most of all they were excited that a boring school topic suddenly became very alive and tangible. I’m still waiting on my sister to send me pictures from some of the classes I spoke in (I had four 50 minute classes altogether), but I’ll post those when I receive them.
It was also a really good pedagogical exercise. I find that a lot of the teacher training I’ve received for primary and secondary school classrooms is equally effective at the postsecondary level. Positive reinforcement is so important for elementary schoolers, but guess what! College students also need positive reinforcement. Like younger students, they also like to feel important and meaningful. College students are at an age where adults often don’t pay as much attention to them anymore, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t thirst for praise and encouragement. I believe all human beings need these things, and a classroom without these things is a sterile, less productive classroom. Even other skills that I learned while teaching younger children have been extremely important for my classroom leadership and presence at the college level. Recognizing when second grade students’ attention spans are expiring is essential! When I would see that, I would take a moment to stop, collect the classroom, maybe have them stand up and shake out their excess energy, and begin fresh with a new pace and tone of voice. The same goes for a college classroom. Attention spans only last so long, so before they run out, I like to re-energize the class a little bit. It’s often with something as simple as a change of my voice, or a pause to ask if there are any questions thus far. Sometimes I’ll incorporate technology to break up the lesson. An informative YouTube video related to class material can sometimes be a great tool as well. More than anything, I think back to my experiences teaching elementary schoolers, and I always think of how much fun it was- how energetic the classes were and how much excitement there was. Because we were all smiling, we were all glad to be there, and thus the students learned better. The same principle applies to college level students. I teach at 8:30 AM, and one of the most frequent pieces of feedback I get on course evaluations is how energetic and engaging the class is at that early hour. I firmly believe that the instructor can only expect to get as much out of students as he or she puts into them.
Anyway, I just had to take a break to watch my grad student mentor defend her dissertation. Congratulations
Brandi Dr. So! I’ll have to write a post on her one day and how much her mentorship influenced my identity and role in the English Department. For now, my momentum is broken, and it’s time for the long commute home. Ave atque vale!