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OCT. 23, 2014

Teaching as Road Trip

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When I was studying secondary education in graduate school, a professor asked us to create a drawing representing our view of ourselves as teachers. My colleagues around me began sketching pictures of coaches, cheerleaders, and guides; I found myself drawing a landscape of mountains, a road winding deep into the horizon, the sun. I was a little puzzled by my own actions, but when called upon to explain my picture, I realized my metaphor: it was teaching as road trip.

I caught the tail end of a glance between the graduate professor and the teaching mentor, an experienced instructor recruited from the local high school system. This glance indicated to me that my metaphor was somehow off-kilter, perhaps a little inappropriate. It caused an internal moment of self-doubt. Why didn’t I gravitate to the picture of a cheerleader? The suited professional? The summer camp counselor?

A couple of Fridays ago, this memory resurfaced as I found myself in a large bus with twelve students from Semester 39. I had been driving down a winding gravel road for the last 20 minutes, and I slowed the bus to a crawl.

“Remember Dillard’s piece ‘Seeing’ from this week? What do you notice right now? What do you hear and smell?”

Students looked over to the left, “We’ve been gaining elevation!” “There’s a really tall, cleared hill over there!” “Vultures!” “It doesn’t smell bad!”

That last comment was actually pretty important. We were visiting the Transylvania Sanitary Landfill as part of our Cornerstone Day on energy use and consumption waste. After arriving at the main offices, director Jeff Brookshire took us on a tour, explaining the science and intention behind the disposal of trash, including this salient point: trash doesn’t go away.  At the end of the day, our school gathered beside the French Broad River and created a pact on our own energy use and consumption waste. Tylar volunteered to place recycling bins in buildings that did not already have them; Leo volunteered to create water-use awareness signs for the showers; Sara drew up our pact and posted it for all to see.

Driving back to campus, I laughed to myself. Perhaps this is what I had meant, years ago—teaching as road trip. It is experiential education out in the world. It is a process that, while promoting objectives and goals, still allows for experimentation and play, allows for the unexpected epiphany and innate curiosity. These elements are all integral to becoming a life-long learner. As the cliché goes, we are all travelers on the path of life. And Semester 39 students are well on their way.

–Katie Harris, Dean of Academics, English Teacher, and Wilderness Instructor