Back to School

Faster than you can say “No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks!” it feels like summer is over and fall is upon us.

Although September is an exciting time of sharp pencils, fresh notebooks, and smiling new faces, it is also a time of very little work-life balance. As teachers, we have new routines to adapt to, new students to get to know, new colleagues and families to work with, assessments to do, education plans to write, and lots (lots!) of coffee to drink to keep us going through it all. The reward, of course, is the excitement of a new year with sweet kids.

This was my 5th first day of school as a teacher (my first-ever teaching gig started mid-year), and it was different for me than it has been in years past. Our first day, September 8, marked less than 3 months until my expedition to Antarctica! Since then, every other team of Fellows has departed and returned from their expeditions, with amazing stories to tell.

So, what have I been doing to prepare my students (and myself) for this exciting adventure?

The first thing is talking to my students about it regularly to try to clear up misconceptions they have. Since they’re so young (ahem, sorry, they are very grown up first graders), this takes some patience and good humour. After I took my first personal day in late September, one of my students thought I was away because I had gone to Antarctica over the weekend. It is so endearing to hear them pipe up, “When you are away at the North Pole…”, only to have to correct them that, no, in fact I will not see polar bears or Santa Claus on my voyage.

But by far the most exciting thing going on in our classroom these days is Peggy. Peggy is a stuffed baby penguin (bonus points if you can identify the species!) that I picked up at National Geographic Headquarters when I was there for the Grosvenor Teacher Fellows pre-expedition workshop in April.

When given the opportunity to name the stuffie, the students brainstormed suggestions and Peggy received the most votes in our democratic process. Somewhat hilariously, Peggy was also the name of my dearly departed grandmother (don’t worry, I’m sure she would approve). When I shared this coincidence with my students, two kids piped up that their grandmothers were also named Peggy. “Wow,” I remarked, “Peggy must be a popular name for grandmas.” From the back of the class came a voice, “Yes, and for penguins too!”

This month each child will get a turn to take Peggy home for a night and, with their family, write in our “Peggy Homework” booklet. My plan is to use this homework as a launchpad for the inquiry-based learning about Antarctica that will be taking place while I’m on expedition and when I return. I want to use the students’ prior ideas, questions, and suggestions to guide the learning that I am doing there, so that I can bring knowledge back that is meaningful to them and that they want to learn more about. My plan is to bring Peggy along with me to Antarctica, so that I can post pictures of it enjoying our voyage to further engage my students (an idea much inspired by my fellow Fellow Greg Gaiera).

Besides the in-class learning, I have been working on my own preparations. I am well stocked up on anti-nausea medications and long underwear. I’ve been watching documentaries and doing lots of reading about Antarctica, too. Plane tickets have been booked, and substitute teachers sought out for while I am away.

Another part of my preparations, and a big leap for an introvert like me, has been seeking out outreach opportunities. Grosvenor Teacher Fellows are expected to share their learning with the wider community upon their return, to promote the importance of geographic literacy. Do you have a community group who would love to hear a presentation? Are you a journalist looking for a personal interest story? Please contact me — I would love to share my learning with you!

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