Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Walking a New Path

I am a master at not believing in myself. It is an incredibly annoying trait. Not only is it annoying to myself, but it gets the eyeballs rolling of those around me as they try to encourage me. I can easily come up with an idea and then quickly put myself down, telling myself, "you stupid girl, you'll never be able to do it." The negative self talk puts the fuck in frustrating. Huh.

Earlier this year, I was at it again. I was telling myself that I couldn't do "it." "It" was a new job opportunity. I received information that a local nature preserve was looking to train folks to become teachers in their children's programming. This is intriguing to me and is something I would love to do. It's certainly a large step away from my past life as a veterinary technician, but it is in the realm of science and nature. Once I read about it, I was excited as hell. I immediately called their office and spoke to the educator in charge. I asked her questions about the training program and then registered myself. Hanging up the phone, I felt that familiar chill of self doubt crawling from my brain. In 10 seconds, I went from, "this is an awesome opportunity" to "dumbass, you'll suck at this."

Why? No reason. Okay, many reasons. As we all know and I have talked about over and over and over and over - I went through a lot of crap as a child and as a young adult. I was tormented by peers. I was told by peers and adults that I wouldn't amount to much and that I was useless. So, I get it. I get why I have a lot of insecurity. Still, I'm in my 30's. I have a remarkable understanding about what happened to me in my past, how it shaped me, how it influenced my way of thinking about myself and others. At some point, I need to shake it all off. I need to acknowledge everything that happened, say hello, say thank you for the lessons, and move the fuck on. I'm still not 100% there, but I keep moving forward. Understanding why I think the way I do about myself makes it all the more frustrating. It's like I'm someone else looking at myself - I can see why the self doubt is there. I know it's pretty much silly at this point. I just can't stop it.

There I was, a few weeks away from beginning a training program and my mind was constantly telling me all the ways I could fail. I wouldn't be smart enough. No one would like me. I would be too awkward. I would be too shy. I'd be too ugly (for real - this is the dumb shit my brain comes up with). I would be that girl who fell into a mud pit and got eaten by some rare giant scorpion. We don't even have scorpions in PA. They would think I suck and I wouldn't be hired and on and on and on and on.

This is what I deal with inside my head constantly. It's a never-ending battle between me, myself, and I. So what do I do? I typically tell myself to shut up. Yeah, I have loads of self doubt that totes chews up my soul, but I somehow manage to move past it. There's a lot of anxiety. Lots of pounding heart beats. It's all worry all the time, but I somehow get myself to wherever I need to be.

We started training this Spring. They do a two week training course where they take us through various trails and demonstrate their programs. After those two weeks are completed, you spend a lot of time observing other teachers in the actual classes before you can begin teaching on your own. The job itself won't begin until the Fall for me.

Training was a lot of fun. First, I got to spend a lot of time in an area that I have loved for a long, long time. We walked through many of the trails, taking note of all of nature's little surprises - the smell of spice bush and garlic mustard, salamanders under logs, raccoons up in trees, owl pellets, owl wash, the sounds of various birds, praying mantis galls, larval and nymph stages of bugs under stream rocks.......I had been hiking these trails for years, but there was still so much that was new to me. We tested samples from some of the waterways and observed aquatic life, both plant and animal, in order to determine the health of the specific ecosystems. We had a fantastic group of people. Our ages varied from 20's to 70's. Everyone was passionate about nature, learning, and the opportunity to share knowledge with children. We all worked together so well and got along happily. The weather was.....Spring. One day it was hot and we wore t-shirts and the next day we were in Winter coats, hats, and gloves. A few days later, we were happily walking through the stream to look for specimens, noting how refreshing and cool the water felt.

My favorite part of the training was working in the stream. We would turn over rocks to look for snails, crayfish, eggs, larva, and nymphs of many insects. We found many crayfish. There were water pennies a'plenty, Mayfly nymphs, planaria, caddisflies, snails, and so many more baby creepy crawlies. I love bugs so I was constantly shouting, "this is so cool!!" every time I flipped over a rock and gently brushed a critter into my specimen cup (all critters were safely returned to their stream once we were done observing).

It was sad when the training program ended. Our daily walks and talks through the woods were a total bright spot for me that month.

I began my observations last month. Sadly, the teaching season is winding down - but it'll pick up again in the Fall. I've followed along on a bunch of classes, getting ideas on how to teach different concepts and how to deal with the many unpredictable curve balls that Mother Nature will throw at you. I still have many, many classes that I need to observe, so I was surprised when the director of education emailed me and asked if I would like to try teaching one of the classes. It was a program I had observed several times already and she felt that I would probably be ready to give it a shot. For the first time, you go out with a supervisor so they can support you and critique your teaching style. Naturally, I said "YES!!!" immediately. I was assigned to a class of wee folk a week later.

So, what did Jenn do? I freaked out, of course. All the self doubt came flooding back. In the week leading up to my first class, I had dream after dream about being unprepared - I would forget the curriculum entirely, I would forget to show up at the proper time, I would get lost. I even dreamed that I showed up in a fabulous ball gown and impractical shoes for hiking and the kids all screamed and ran away the moment I said my name. I'm terrified - TERRIFIED - of public speaking and I had visions of me just flubbing all of my words with a shaky voice. The forecast said it would be 95 degrees and humid, so I had visions of me either fainting or walking around with buttcrack and underboob sweat. Glamorous.

The day came and I sent my little dude off to school and gave my daughter a kiss before leaving her with my husband. I listened to Preston and Steve on the way to the park in an effort to calm my nerves and take my mind off my fear. I arrived at the park 30 minutes early and walked into the office to greetings from the other teachers who would be out that day. I quizzed them on whether they had ever felt nervous for their first class - they had - and if they dreamed about being unprepared. They laughed with me about my ballgown dream. I gathered all of my field supplies in my backpack and headed outside to wait for my class to arrive.

Making small talk with the other teachers, I started to feel more calm, but my heart raised the roof once I heard the school bus coming down the street. I watched as a swarm of wiggly kindergartners emerged from the bus, dividing themselves into pre-determined groups. Each teacher took a group and went on their way. I waved at my group of kids and motioned for them to follow me out of the parking lot and into a small clearing so we could say hello and get acquainted. "Hello! I'm so happy to see you all. My name is Jenn and I work at (insert name of park). I'll be taking you on a little walk today and we're going to see what we can discover. How about you tell me your names." One by one, each child told me their name as they eyed me up and down. After our introductions, I gave them my two rules (I stay in front. Don't taste anything) and we were on our way.

"Miss Jenn, will we get poison ivy? My uncle has poison ivy and he almost blew up."
"Are there any bears, Miss Jenn? How about snakes? Can they bite?"
"When is lunch? I'm huuuuunnnnnggggrrrrrrrryyyyyyy."

I taught them about leaves of three and how we should let them be. I told them we don't have any bears, but we do have snakes and - if we are very quiet - we may see some of them and their friends. Lunch? That would be after class.

We walked along our trail, looking for things of certain colors, noting different smells and sounds. We circled a pond and found many frogs. One of the students found a lightning bug, so I scooped it up into a bug container with a magnifying glass lid so the kids could get a closer look at it. We thanked Mr. Lightning Bug and let him go after each child had a chance to look at him up close. We stopped to smell the spice bushes, telling each other what we thought it smelled like - cereal, candy, peppermint, and.....poop (there's always one). We looked in the tree hollows and talked about who may live in them. We heard various birds, including the elusive pileated woodpecker. I sprayed spiderwebs with a mist of water to make it show up better in the sunlight. We found many harvestmen ("daddy long legs"). We made tea out of various smelly leaves and then left it in a compost pile. The kids observed how the sun makes shadows and they worked on finding different patterns of shadows among the plants. We felt the slimy goo the protects spindlebug larva that was deposited on plants throughout our walk. I sprayed the kids down with a squirt bottle of water because it was so hawt. We felt the different textures of bark on the trees and looked for shapes made by branches. I ended up going through the trail pretty quick and we had a surplus of time, so I took the kids to a spot that's good for seeing a variety of birds and some showy blue jays and cardinals popped by. We went to a smaller pond where the kids saw more frogs, a baby turtle, and they got to hear the frogs croaking. They also saw many dragonflies darting over the water.

The kids would argue now and then about who got to walk right behind me and I found myself having to tell a few of them to go to the back of the line because the pushing and shoving was a bit too much. One little girl was very quiet and would be easily pushed to the side by the other kids when we would stop to observe something. And they would never let her move to the front of the line. So, for the last part of our walk, I brought her up front with me and I could tell that it made her so happy.

At the end of our walk, I thanked the kids for visiting me and learning with me. I got a few hugs before they headed back to their bus for the almighty lunchtime.

My supervisor and I went back into the office to review my day. She said I did quite well. Her critiques were that I went a little fast and I could have spent more time at each stop. I think I was so nervous about being too slow that I ended up overcompensating. Now I know that I can really slow down and take my time when I am showing the kids something. All in all, it went quite well. I can teach that program again in the Fall when it starts up again. Then, as I observe more of the other programs and get comfortable with them, I'll be able to teach those as well.

So, that is life right now. There's a new beginning right around the corner and I am very excited about it. I'm glad I never listen to my self doubt. I am psyched about this opportunity. Being able to walk kids through these trails and getting them excited about nature is the best thing. Nature and it's preservation are extremely important to me and I am fortunate to have a chance to make a job out of passing that on to children.

Much love and happy trails!!

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