Something that I have realized about myself as a teacher is that when I take risks and “think outside the box” I benefit just as much as my students. Another thing that I have learned is that the reward is usually worth the risk.
Even early in my career, I decided to do unconventional things and take a risk if it meant that students would be engaged and excited about learning. I also knew that I needed exciting things to look forward to myself, even if that meant spending time outside of school with students.
For years, I held an essay contest for girls who were interested in marine biology. My cousin had asked me to assist her in teaching a marine biology workshop during an all girls “Women In Science” conference at a local science center. I decided to add another layer to it by holding a class contest for girls. The winner would accompany me to the conference and also help teach the hands on workshop with my cousin. With the administrator’s and parents’ permission, I brought several girls with me to this workshop over several years. At the time, this was an unconventional and risky thing- to pick up a student in my car on a Saturday and spend the whole day with them. Who does that?
But the reward ended up being worth the risk. At least three of these girls ended up pursuing marine biology or some other science field in college. At some point they have contacted me directly or I have heard through their parents that they were inspired to pursue marine or environmental sciences because of that “unconventional” day with me in fifth grade.
I have taken students on a weekend deep sea fishing trip and I take an annual trip with kids to stock a local pond with trout. I have convinced some to join me on a Saturday to celebrate Earth Day.
Others might think these types of things are beyond what a classroom teacher should be doing. They may think of it as “risky” to participate in so many out of school experiences with students. I look at each experience as an opportunity to peak the interest of kids. You never know which “risk” will led to inspiring a student’s future. And each reward has inspired me to keep taking risks in my teaching.