For the past two years I have served as both a middle school science teacher and social studies teacher. Some of the things I have learned about teaching is that the best learning happens outside the classroom and that sometimes you need to play around and be goofy with the kids. As my second year of service is coming to an end, I wanted to highlight some of the key experiences that have taught me these things. I like to think these experiences are what teaching is really about.
My first year as an LV was spent in Memphis, Tennessee. There I was the sixth – eighth grade science teacher. At the end of the year my students worked on an ecosystem research project. We looked at endangered species as well as invasive species in our local old growth forest and at the Memphis Zoo. This project was a hit with the kids. One of my toughest to motivate students was so engaged in this project and thrived. After the tough year I had with him, it was a big teacher win for me. Students created dioramas as well as posters that were showcased at our scholastic fair on the last day of school.
After the students put in their hard work we took a field trip to Overton Park, the place they had centered their project around. Overton Park is one of the nation’s largest old growth forests in an urban area. Thousands of species find refuge here. It is also home to the Memphis Zoo, the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, The Levitt Shell Theater and multiple military memorials. All of these things also make it a great classroom.
Brother Tom Sullivan, FSC, a biology professor at Christian Brothers University and a member of the Brothers community I was part of while living in Memphis, agreed to accompany my students and me on a hike around the forest. He rattled off the names of different kinds of flowers and trees as we walked along. He even pointed out a salamander, which was a big hit with middle school boys. The kids were extremely engaged and very curious. They asked Brother Tom so many questions. I could tell they really were enjoying learning and making connections to the world that they live in.
This year I am in Chicago serving as the sixth – eighth grade social studies teacher. In the fall I had the opportunity to go to Camp Gray in Wisconsin with my students. Here the students participated in a variety of team building and problem solving activities in nature. I loved getting to see my students challenged in ways that typically don’t happen in a normal classroom. They learned that they are stronger when they work together, not against each other. This was a hard thing for some of the competitive boys to learn.
My seventh graders also got to learn new skills that they wouldn’t typically get to learn back home, like archery and fishing. It was so fun watching kids be kids out in nature, something that is hard to come by living on the south side of Chicago. One of my favorite memories was watching the kids ride the bikes around and looking so carefree and happy. I even got to help teach one of my kids how to ride a bike!
The best part of the trip took place right before we were heading back home. It had just snowed overnight and the kids got to have a huge snowball fight. At first I was concerned and was thinking about the long drive back to Chicago with a bus full of soaking wet kids. That worry soon lifted. I was right in there with them and ended up with a face full of snow. I knew that in that moment what I needed to do the most was to be playful with them and let them be kids.
Being playful and having fun with students is so important. It is a great way to show them love. That trip helped me build better relationships with my students. It allowed both of us to see different sides of each other. I mean, when else would they get the opportunity to throw a snowball in their teachers face?
Teaching is so much more than having kids memorize multiplication facts and remember dates in history. Yes, those things are important, but it is also about making meaningful connections that help grow and shape the whole child. The past two years as a Lasallian Volunteer have taught me this, and I hope to continue to foster these types of experiences in my work to come.
Sheyenne Bauer is a second-year volunteer at San Miguel School in Chicago, Illinois, serving as the sixth – eighth grade social studies teacher and middle school volleyball coach. She is 2018 graduate of Saint Mary’s University in Winona, Minnesota, with a degree in elementary education.