Monday, December 15, 2008

Five myths about writing about teaching natural history: Myth 1

Yes, the title of this post is a mouthful. Yet it makes an important point. A year and a half ago the Natural History Network launched the Journal of Natural History Education, and since that time, as editor, I’ve had the opportunity to talk with numerous people about developing articles for the journal. Some of them contacted me at the suggestion of an NHN board member or colleague; some simply came across the journal on the web and thought they had an idea for an article.

Without exception, all of them had interesting and important stories to tell about teaching natural history. But also without exception, my conversations with them, both initial discussions about how a story could be developed into a manuscript as well as follow-up conversations about how manuscripts could be improved, revealed that teachers are enormously intimidated by and uncertain about telling their stories.

Five key myths emerge repeatedly. I call them myths because they are fundamentally incorrect, but I could just as easily call them barriers because these myths stand in the way of telling our stories in ways that share knowledge and experience, as well as empower other teachers to participate in the natural history renaissance (Trombulak and Fleischner 2007). Over a series of posts, I'd like to describe each of these myths. First up, Myth 1 ...

Myth 1: Nobody really wants to know about what I do with my students.

Wrong. Imagine that you come across an article that talks about teaching natural history to the same kinds of students you teach and with the same kind of emphasis you make. What is your reaction to that article? Do you say, “No, I don’t want to read it because it is too relevant to my life as a teacher”? Of course not. As teachers, we are always looking for better ways to communicate, educate, and evaluate. We are well aware that there are a thousand different ways to construct an exercise or activity, most of which we know we would not develop on our own. So we are always talking to our colleagues about what they do and how well they think it works.

Your colleagues are no different than you. Just as you want to learn from them, so too do they want to learn from you. Maybe they will listen to your story and adopt your approach in their own class, and maybe they will decide that they prefer what they are currently doing. But that’s not the point. What matters is that you are giving them the opportunity to consider alternatives and improvements. The truth is that they want to know what you are doing with your students because it gives them the opportunity to improve as educators, whether or not they agree with you.

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