Monday, November 20, 2006

A Good Story

Maybe it’s the holiday season but I was thinking I would post a good story. I always feel good when I think back about this one time that I was teaching an overnight at the zoo. That night was just a good night that reminds me of the unexpected pleasures that you never know until they hit you.
To get the whole picture an overnight at the zoo is when a large group of students come to the zoo after school, go through about 3 or 4 classes from 7:30 PM to 10:00 PM and then sleep overnight at the zoo (usually in the dolphin pavilion). The next day they have breakfast and then time for a brief look at the animals before they’re off, back to school. I volunteered and worked overnights for years, because I could easily go to the zoo after my day job. It kept me off of the streets and away from the TV.
This particular night I was teaching a class about marine invertebrates. I’m in the Waters Building, surrounded by tanks of sharks, fish, eels, lobsters, and all other kinds underwater creatures. You only have the light that filters out from the tanks so it can be dark and mysterious like you really are underwater peering eye to eye with these creatures. And if this setting isn’t enough to get the kids excited about the class, there is also an added tank that I wheel out from behind the scenes. It’s called “The Touch Tank” and it’s an important part of the class. After a brief lesson about one family of marine invertebrates I then get one animal out for everyone to see and touch. Sea stars (starfish, it’s not a fish!) sea urchins, crabs, and giant snails, the kids are always excited when the class involves live animals. The important part was after one of the classes, a parent comes up to talk to me.
She says, “So you’re Jeff” in a matter of fact sort of way.
I naturally reply back “I’m sorry, do I know you?”
She quickly responds “No, of course you don’t know me, but I know you because of my oldest. He was on an overnight 2 years ago and I distinctly remember him talking about this really cool teacher at the zoo named Jeff. I’m glad I got to see you this time.” She went on to explain more about how her oldest child really enjoyed the overnight at the zoo so this time when her youngest child was going she signed up to be a chaperone. We talked briefly about what she found interesting and then she had to rush off to the next class with the group.
After she left it all fell into place for me. This was how it was supposed to work. I would teach a class and the kids learn something and get excited about learning and nature. The bonus was how everything else worked, which I never thought about before that night. The parent listened and remembered what her child said and maybe even learned something too. Then she was moved to become more involved so she and her youngest child got even more out the second experience at the zoo. All you ask is for the kids’ attention for an hour and you hope they take something away from the class. In this case it seemed to work more beautifully then I could have imagined. I felt like I really made a difference and who knows how many other kids learned from my classes. Maybe I should be a teacher but after several years of teaching at the zoo I was getting a little burnt out. I don’t think I could have kept it up for much longer. It still makes me happy to think of the chain of events that were set into motion.

PS I should make that photo even smaller as it's horrible but it's the only one I have "at work at the zoo".

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