The Student is the Teacher

Inspired by “The Sound of Silverbells” in Braiding Sweetgrass

Written by Sydney Hook


A teacher and a class of college biology students take a 3-day camping trip into the Great Smoky Mountains. After having to convince the dean to allow them to take the trip, her next goal was to convince the students to fall in love with nature as much as her. However, in the end the students end up convincing the teacher what really matters. While the teacher only focused on spitting facts about every plant and animal they saw, the students were focused on making deeper connections. They took notes on how the world is a gift. The students taught the teacher to not focus on how it works, but what it means.

Keywords: true meaning, perspectives, eye-opening


“Alright class, let’s go outside and load the school busses,” I announced to my 4th grade class. Today was our field trip to Ada Hayden Park. My class of 24 students and I won the bonus field trip for having the highest science test scores this quarter.

“Are we going to eat lunch there,” asked one of the students.

“We sure are! The cafeteria cooks were kind enough to prepare us with sack lunches for today” I answered eagerly.

I had been to Ada Hayden Park numerous times. I have always loved walking around the lake and smelling the fresh aromas. It has always been so peaceful. The tall green grasses, the colorful flowers, the deer and squirrels rustling around in the trees, and the kayakers grazing the water surface.

We headed towards the bus in a single file line we have practiced so many times. My line leader of the week was walking proud and feeling cool as she led the way. When we got on the bus I took attendance once more as everyone found their seats next to their bus buddies. Everyone was accounted for so I gave the bus driver the signal to start heading that way.

The bus ride was only 35 minutes to Ada Hayden. The students found it easy to stay entertained chatting with one another. I stayed busy thinking about which plants I should teach about and stressing that we would hopefully see enough animals for me to talk about. If there weren’t animals around today, of course I could always teach for hours about insects.

I was in the middle of trying to plan my lessons when a student interrupted and said, “I can’t wait to go run around and play. It’s like a recess all day!”

I was quick to correct him by saying, “We are going here to learn about nature, not just to play in it, okay?” He slumped back in his seat with a face of disappointment. I turned back forward and took a minute to recover from my shock of him being so disappointed. I started thinking to myself of why he thought this was just to go play. I tried shrugging it off and went back to mentally planning lessons for the nature we were to see.

Soon enough we arrived at Ada Hayden. I hopped up from my seat and gave a few last minute reminders about how we are to stick together and have our best listening ears on today. “We have to all stay on the path that I lead for us. Also, don’t forget to bring your science notebook journals with you as I expect you to take notes on what we see and learn about today.”

We got off the bus and began our journey for the day. I didn’t hesitate to start teaching about the first plant we saw, milkweed. Then about a cricket we saw. Then a frog, monarch butterfly, spruce tree, purple coneflower, cattail, painted turtle, wood duck, and deer mouse were all to follow.

A good chunk of the day had passed and it was time for lunch. We all huddled around the picnic table and passed out the sack lunches.

As most students were finishing up lunch, I made the announcement “Make sure to throw away your trash and then we will get back on the path and see what else we can learn about.”

One of my typically quiet students came up and sat down beside me. She asked, “Can we go play in the water instead of taking more notes on plants.”

“Why wouldn’t you want to learn more about the beautiful nature here?” I questioned.

“I do think it’s beautiful here, but that’s why I want to just go play in the nature. It’s just that…you keep trying to teach us all of these things about what’s growing here and we’re trying to hurry and right it down. But I think we can learn more from just enjoying the day and admiring it,” the student said to me, nervous to make eye contact.

“I don’t know, that’s not really what I had planned for the day.”

“Please Ms. Hook. I promise just try it. Maybe you will learn something new about nature too. Maybe you’ll learn the true meaning of nature.” Then she got up and walked back over to her friend in the class.

I sat there staring at the class, bewildered. My 4th grade student’s words sunk in. I spent the whole day thus far trying to cram in so many facts about the species we saw today, rather than letting them enjoy the day. They earned this field trip. They already had the highest science scores for 4th grade, so why was I trying to pound more information into them. Why not just let the students teach themselves today. And even teach me today. I think my students might just know more about the true meaning of the gift of nature than I do.

As I recollected myself, I announced the change of plans for the day. I explained that we are going to enjoy a new form of lesson for the remainder of our field trip. We were going to play under the sun and enjoy the nature around us. I was going to allow the students to be the teacher and open my eyes to the beautiful nature.


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Humanizing Science through STEAM Challenges Copyright © 2021 by E.J. Bahng and John M. Hauptman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.