Career Story: Teacher Education Specialist At A Natural History Museum

Teacher Education Specialist At A Natural History Museum

Job Title: Museum Educator

Type of Company: A natural history museum in North Carolina's research triangle.

Education: BA, Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia •• MS, Earth and Ocean Sciences, Duke University

Previous Experience: I worked as a Teaching Assistant in graduate school which gave me experience teaching college students and leading field trips. I also volunteered at the museum before getting a job here.

Job Tasks: I am the Teacher Education Specialist in School Programs section of a natural history museum. I work with classroom teachers and informal educators from all over the state to provide knowledge, support, and activities that help them teach environmental science and encourage them to teach in the outdoors. My job has two main focuses: working with teachers at their schools and leading field trips for educators in natural areas.

At schools, I work with groups of 16-24 teachers, demonstrating ways in which they can use their school grounds to teach science and other subjects (reading, writing, math, etc.) in an outdoor setting. For instance, I demonstrate activities they can engage in with their students involving trees, insects, birds, flowers, and aquatic animals. I also typically work with students to install a small wildlife habitat at schools - mainly butterfly gardens, bird observation areas, or mini ponds.

My other prime responsibility is leading field trips (sometimes referred to as "experiences" or Educator Treks) to natural areas around North Carolina. I take groups of 8 to 20 teachers for either a day or a weekend. Our destinations include state parks, wildlife refuges, city or county parks and other natural areas. Some workshops focus on particular flora or fauna (birds, butterflies, caterpillars, dragonflies, etc.); others cover the natural history of a particular area (the high mountain ecology of Mt. Mitchell and Grandfather Mountain, for example, or the coastal ecology of Bald Head Islands or the Outerbanks). I provide background knowledge about the topic or area and activities to use in the classroom with students. An important aspect of these treks is to provide refreshing and reinvigorating experiences for teachers that inspire them in their teaching.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best part of my job is that I get to be outdoors a lot and travel to all sorts of interesting natural areas around North Carolina. I really enjoy the day-to-day diversity. I also am good at working to deadlines, and I like the fact that I am planning for scheduled and finite workshops rather than maintaining something ongoing.

There isn't much about my job that I don't like, but I guess the worst part would be trying to keep a lot of materials organized: not just papers but books and props and posters and tools!

Job Tips: I think with most jobs in museums volunteering is a good way to get your foot in the door. I also think it's important to know the natural history of an area if you plan to do outdoor or environmental education. This is a skill that few have and that is very valuable in teaching natural science. Finally, be enthusiastic about what you're doing. As an educator I find that my excitement inspires others.

Additional Thoughts: Leading trips for other requires the ability to read people. It also requires a lot of stamina as days are long when you are leading a trip and trying to cater to the needs of a group. I think my most important personal trait, however, is enthusiasm!

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