Environmental Education Is: A Teacher's Perspective


Environmental Education Is: A Teacher's Perspective

Guest blog post written by R.S. Robertson.

Environmental education—a field of complex concepts—can open one’s mind to the exploration of and the understanding of nature that the average person never realizes.

Someone “in tune” with nature has an in-depth understanding of how nature and the conditions of our environment impact our daily lives—these are special people—people who can think beyond what they see and experience in their daily lives.  These people are lucky.  Too many people do not know or recognize how nature is entwined in our lives and how our behaviors impact either positively or negatively the place where we live. Our planet also depends upon us for its survival.

What is environmental education? Clear perception is a must to understand all the facets of how and what nature itself can yield to life—and in one’s own learning and understanding of her or his own existence.  A common misconception is that environmental education is the study of “nature and the environment.” However, that is far from the actual meaning of the field.

While environmental education encompasses all aspects of the environment and all the many beautiful facets of nature, it is broader and more expansive. Because of its breadth, it is a wonderful tool that can be used by teachers as a vehicle to explain any and every concept in any subject from art to history, math to science, and every other learning situation.

Opening the students’ minds to higher levels of thinking and understanding how the world around them works leads them to a better understanding of their own lives. In fact, as we teach it, we also gain insights. So teachers and students alike understand how humans impact the environment. Then we will recognize how and why we must take the long view to better care for the natural and human-built world. It helps address the future of all life on this planet.

Environmental education must be an integral and necessary part of any practicing teacher or teacher candidate’s learning process. The field creates better teachers with skills to incorporate what exists in the students' everyday lives. It leads to better understanding, greater thinking, and problem-solving skills. Through the field of environmental education teacher candidates learn to use nature and the environment as the vehicle to make concepts clear and meaningful to their students' lives. It enables the students to broaden their thinking skills and problem-solving skills.

Environment education gives teachers ideas to make learning more exciting for their students—to help them make a connection to the life going on around them. This is something that is hard to achieve in these days of rapid-fire, high-tech, computer games that seem to hold students captive in front of a computer while life—real life, is ongoing and where “life” is often struggling to exist.

As a teacher who was able to experience all the facets of environmental education, I can attest that my experiences as both a student of the field and as a leader/assistant in the program not only did I become a better teacher because of my environment education experiences—I became a better human being. My understanding of how the world works and how I impact the environment allowed me to interact with my surroundings in a more caring and careful manner. Life is precious and fragile. In these times it is infinitely more important that people achieve a more comprehensive level and long-view perception. If not, our world and life on this planet are doomed.

That learning and awareness have to begin with young children. It is important that teachers be able to reach students and help them learn to be better citizens of life.  Environmental Education gives the teachers the tools to integrate the learning of their subject matter better and at the same time help the students learn their role and their impact on the environment. Initially

As a teacher, I hope I reached at least one student to transcend to a higher level of thinking, to make the connection that learning anything is tied back to the surrounding life forms and nature of which we are a part. If I use nature as the vehicle to help that student make that connection, then all my endeavors, all my time, and all my energy were well spent.

As a student in the Environment Education program at Murray State University’s Center for Environmental Education, I was able to network with other people and with other teachers who—like me—saw the need to make connections with our environment and to understand that life and nature have so much to offer. At the same time, it also made me reflect on how fragile our natural and human-built world can be. I learned how I could use nature and problems in the environment to create learning experiences to have them reflect on not only their knowledge base but how they can contribute in positive ways to be impactful. Being a member of that learning community I felt I was an integral part of that kinship; it enhanced me personally and made my life richer. Working together we made connections I had not achieved before in my own professional development. I learned new ideas from my peers that actively engaged me as a valued member of the program.

The Environment Education program is a natural, vital place and space to create a learning network. The awareness and participation we experienced also cut across our situations and classrooms but in a broader way across our nation. In turn, it made those connections more than a local endeavor but also a global one. 

Every class I took, and every concept I learned, broadened my thinking and my understanding. I recognized I had skills I did not realize I possessed. I was able to make linkages to raise my awareness and my love of nature and life on this planet. The weeklong, residential, Summer Institute was one of the greatest learning situations that I experienced in my travel through education. Often we had participants not only locally and regionally but internationally. It brought our diverse ideas and cultures together. That magical, joint experience was made viable and alive because we studied ideas, concepts, and skills through the field of environmental education.

The groups represented during those weeks consisted of all grade levels and all subject matter. We were able to create a community of teaching and learning that we could share and use throughout our teaching careers and beyond. We created “threads of life” that could never be broken or lost. I knew that there would always be someone I could call on to help me enhance my creativity and my…connections with nature. 

Of all the classes I took on my path to becoming a teacher, the Environmental Education program was one of the key elements that helped mold me into a better teacher and a better human being.

Ms. Robertson is a retired teacher from Livingston County, Kentucky. A science teacher who loves to write, participated as a student and as a teacher in numerous programs at the graduate and undergraduate levels. She worked as a member of a teaching community with teachers-to-be, passing along her love of the natural world using environmental education. Two summers she and a colleague, Nancy Smith, created volumes of art and writing written by the learning community that encompassed persons from local, state, regional and international communities. It was a stunning collection that represented what people learned and expressed at that intense, week-long, residential program.