Welcome to our 2016 Advent Calendar series (#AFONAdvent)! This year, our theme is “The Gift of Inspiration”. For each day, one of our members has written a blog post about someone who has inspired them, and how that inspiration has lead to them being where they are today. Each member is a shining example of a young person who is acting Now for Nature. We hope that you enjoy the series and have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
“So, what species of dragonfly is that then?” says a kind, twinkly-eyed, white-haired gentleman sitting in front of me, referring to the necklace I had chosen to wear to his book signing. David Attenborough is an inspiration, I think, to all naturalists in any line of work. Watching his fascinating documentaries as a child made me even more interested in them as an adult and was how I’d ended up having this conversation with him in the Norwich branch of Waterstones during my PGCE year. He plays a small, but integral, part of the journey into my studies and career.
By the time I’d reached high school, my keen interest in the natural world had waned, and I’d got caught up in the Pokémon craze (the first time round). Like many young adults, I had no idea what I was really interested in or wanted to do. I had always enjoyed art and had assumed I’d end up following a career in that; illustrating or graphic design or such like. But, in year 11, I had the most fantastic Physics teacher who inspired me to continue studying sciences at A-level. I had always been quite good at science, but it was never something I’d considered continuing further. Choosing my A-levels, I decided to pursue Physics, Art, English and Biology.
At A-level, I realised that science really was the way forward for me. Biology seemed to be my ‘best’ subject and, again, I had a quirky teacher who made it all the more interesting. This encouraged me to start looking at Biology based degrees at university. Eventually, I settled on studying Ecology at the University of East Anglia. It was here that I ended up meeting like-minded people, but who had kept up their natural history and could identify more birds than me and were just generally more knowledgeable. I realised I was going to have to work hard to keep up. I got myself the recommended field guides, plus more besides, and immersed myself in my studies. I accumulated so much knowledge about the natural world and the issues it faces from the course and from those around me. It was something I felt needed to be embedded in peoples’ minds.
After achieving my degree, I went on to my teacher training course (PGCE), fuelled to inspire the next generation to save the world’s wildernesses. However, something called the National Curriculum often gets in the way of teaching what I deem to be the important issues. As part of the course, I had to write three assignments. One was called the ‘school based assignment’ and was very open in terms of what could be researched. I decided to look at ‘Young Peoples’ Awareness of the Natural Environment and its effects on attitudes, well being and the global dimension’. As part of the research, I read ‘Last Child in the Woods’ by Richard Louv, a hugely influential book about the disconnection between children and nature and the health and wellbeing effects this has. This inspired me to make sure that, somehow, I fit in something, somewhere about the natural world into my teaching, whether it be extra-curricular or a different approach to teaching. I mainly teach Physics now, so I have to be more creative in my approach. For example, I always teach magnetic fields through the medium of bird navigation, insulation through birds puffing out their feathers, and sound through the medium of bird or bat sonograms.
Common lizard taken at Strumpshaw Fen. This made into BBC Wildlife Magazine as part of their Local Patch Reporters Project in 2014.
Of course, there are many other authors, bloggers, naturalists, conservationists, etc. who inspire me to get out and experience the natural world in my spare time, write my blog and get involved in the BBC Wildlife Local Patch Reporters project. But I hope, in some small way, I inspire a few of my students to do the same.