Monday, August 10, 2015

TTEC Summer Institute Reflections

Mike Cruse
Arlington Career Center
Arlington VA 
2015 TTEC Cohort 

         July 27, 2015
Spending the past week with peers at the National Conservation Training Center was a real gift, but I'll stop short of saying how blessed I feel to have been part of the experience. 

Honestly, I feel like the roses far outweighed the thorns, which isn't something I usually feel when reflecting on professional development.  The sessions were informative and the time and opportunity to collaborate with others made this a true learning experience. 

As the only teacher from my school, located more than an hour from the closest entry point to the trail, I wasn't sure how I could make the AT relevant to my students' lives. What I realized as part of our exploration of place-based education is how you have to start with the place students call home, before you can expand outside of that comfort zone. That is especially important when your students live in urban settings and come from minority groups that historically haven't been represented in parks and on trails. It was encouraging to hear about the National Park Services's (NPS) initiatives to promote greater diversity, reflective of 21st century America, as it prepares for its centennial. 

As a white male who works with a primarily, minority student population, I've questioned my role in addressing the gap between my world of the outdoors, and my students' comfort with urban environments.  I love cities too, and all the diversity that they offer, but I think we all need space to reflect on our lives. At the high school level, we ask students to reflect a lot, but if we don't give them access to some form of natur

e where they can experience what it is to be reflective observers and listeners, we may as well be asking them to write an essay without providing them with paper and pencil. 

Now I see my role more as a guide than as a teacher.  There is a lot that I don't know about plants, animals and the natural world.  I do know how being surrounded by it makes me feel though, and that's what I want to share with my students, one step at a time.  My hope is that by exposing them to new environments, they will grow into their own appreciation of nature.  That's bound to look different than my feelings about nature, which are part of almost every memory of my childhood. 

As different as our feelings may be, I have to trust that they will be struck with something akin to the awe I feel each time I watch a sunrise or sunset over the rolling hills of my native Central PA. If they feel that, I know that they too will care enough to preserve them, to save them from everything that ails our cities and planned communities. In the words of the NPS, I want to set them up to 'find your park'. If they find that place in the world, I'll know that they've found it inside themselves too.

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North Carolina NCCAT participants

North Carolina NCCAT participants
At the Wayah Bald Fire Tower

Mary Jane

Mary Jane
On top of Silers Bald