A Teacher's Day

The day in the life of an inner city large urban school district teacher after the high stakes testing ends and there is still three more months left before summer vacation.

Location: Chicago, Illinois, United States

I have taught school for over thirty years always in the inner city and for the most part always upper grade students. I have two children and I have been married for twenty years.

Monday, November 27, 2006


It’s the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and all through the school not a person—but we won’t be there. We have a field trip to the North Park Village Nature Center.

A few months ago my classroom received a donation of five hundred dollars for a character education project. Part of the money was going to be used to pay for the bus. Why were we going to use the money? My classroom was taking fifteen primary students from Mrs. Jeff's third grade classroom on the trip with us as an incentive. This school year there has been a rash of discipline problems in the primary grades.

It was a great trip. From the bus driver Michael White of A & M to the guides of the nature center to my class and the primary students they partnered with, this trip could not have been better.

I should mention first that the staff was waiting for us when we arrived. Not inside. Nope. On the front steps. Two guides and a volunteer. Sean Shaffer and Sarah Pearce, two of the center’s naturalists, gave us the grand tour. We divided up into two groups and took off down the path in search of animals, nature, and discovery.

(I need to let you know I toured the entire park a few weeks earlier with my brother Steven Brownstein (a police officer who specializes in animal endangerment—dog fights, for example), entered the nature center and arranged for the trip, and saw—during two hikes—over ten deer, chipmunks and other animals. For you country folks, this is not a biggee, but here in the city—it’s quite a site.)

There were no animals on the trails in the park itself—but they were doing controlled burnings. They explained everything in detail to the group—why they burn, how it helps everything, etc., etc.—and we were allowed to get up close and personal with the flames—some of them shooting into the sky thirty feet or more.

Buckthorn is a real problem in the preserve, so they chop it down and burn it. An invasive species, it poisons the ground around it and causes other damage to the native plants. We saw other things—different types of seeds, a kind of bark that is used in aspirin, animal homes, animal tracks, and quite a number of other things.

Inside the nature center, the children had a hands on experience with a number of items found in the forest. They visited with the naturalists, saw a bee hive and a swarm, and even utilized microscopes and other tools a biologist would use.

Then it was lunchtime, but we had left our lunches at school. The students were hungry. What to do? Simple. We went to the community garden where my brother has a plot and harvested a few green onions, some mustard and peppermint. Some of the children ate the plants—but I must admit I had my son, Korey, with me. (He wants to be a botanist when he gets older and I knew he would identify the plants we could eat.) And they liked the taste. And they wanted more. I love it when my students want to try new things and new experiences.

Then we did the coolest thing of all. We went into the private preserve dedicated to biologists and naturalists. No trespassing signs are everywhere. But we had Gina Glowen from the center with us. And what a guide she was!

She showed us a large slug, too many deer to even think about, and many more things—including a swale.

On the way home all the children could talk about was how close they had come to the deer and how beautiful the forest was and how nice the air smelled—once we were away from the controlled burn. Even the student of mine who adamantly did not want to come (“I hate animals. Any animals. Doesn’t matter. I don’t want to even think about seeing an animal.”) told me it was really great to see a group of deer only a few yards away.

A great trip. A great character builder. A great bonding experience. Now my students cannot wait to begin their charity work for UNICEF (but this is for another blog) and their community tutoring program with the third grade class they have adopted.

One field trip and so many positive results. And all for a little over a hundred dollars. (That’s what the bus cost.)

This is why I’m a teacher.


Anonymous Donor said...

What a truly wonderful thing to do with your funds, I hope you have more trips like this, seems like the kids had a lot of fun. Lincoln Park was always a favorite of mine as well as the arboretum, I still go there on my visits to Chicago. You are doing a great job with the kids. Thanks.

1:08 PM  

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