by Donna L. Ross
My friends, let’s call them John and Karen, are a couple in their late 30s who have been married for ten years. For the past three years, Karen has felt ready to have a child; John does not believe they are financially ready. He wants to wait until they have saved enough for all likely contingencies.
Another couple, Paul and Susan, friends of my parents, plan to retire in seven to eight years. Paul would like to begin traveling now, taking one trip each year. Susan says there will be plenty of time to travel when they retire; but for now, there is just too much work at the office. She doesn’t feel comfortable taking any of her vacation time.
At the risk of sounding like Dr. Phil, here are some things I imagine saying after I listen to my friends.
To John and Karen: you’ll never be completely ready. You should plan as well as you can, but ultimately you just have to jump in, knowing you might need to work a little longer or harder down the road. Somehow, with just a little planning it seems to work out and be worth the effort.
To Susan and Paul: don’t live just for the future. There will always be demands on your time and an increasing number of expectations. By putting off the things you want to try, you risk losing the opportunity. Or, consider this question, is there a reason you don’t want to do it? If you value something, you will find a way to fit it into your busy schedule now, instead of putting it off until that magical time when you are “caught up” with everything.
To the readers: if you’ve stuck with me this far, you are probably asking…what does this have to do with science education? I spend a lot of time considering these same responses as I listen to teachers in different districts, schools, and grades.
I think of my advice to Susan when I hear elementary teachers say “I am going to teach science as soon as I have more time” or “I am going to teach science as soon as I finish the math and language arts standards my students need for the tests.”
I think of my advice to Susan when I hear secondary teachers say “I want to do more labs and student-centered activities, but I can’t until after the state tests.”
I think of my advice to John and Karen when I hear all teachers say “I read about inquiry, but my students aren’t ready for it” or “I’ll try some inquiry labs as soon as I know a little more about how to engage my students.” or “Our school doesn’t have enough equipment to do labs.”
Try it. Go back and read my responses to my friends. Substitute the family challenges with science teaching issues. You might be surprised how well the same advice fits both scenarios.
I think if Dr. Phil were a science educator, he might say the following: We find a way to do the things we value. Even without enough time or resources, we figure out a way to embrace the aspects of our lives that are most important to us. Teachers do the same thing every day.
The instructional choices you make with each lesson reflect your values about science education. Imagine Dr. Phil is watching your class, what do your actions say about your beliefs?
Donna Ross is associate professor of science education at San Diego State University and is CSTA’s 4-year college director.