Life experiences become an important component of education

We are nearing the end of another school year. One thing teachers always try to do is reflect back upon what worked and what didn’t work. If something wasn’t successful, we always ask ourselves why it wasn’t. How could we fix it?

As teachers we all plan what we want our students to glean from every lesson. However, sometimes it’s the things that just happen in the middle of it all that take hold. Sometimes problem solving and soft skills can override our planned activities.

For example, the class might be studying plant nutrition or other growth requirements and a plant sale customer comes to the door. I send a student out with this member of our community and the student gets grilled about the growing requirements of different plants.

That was a life lesson. Kids must learn to think on their feet. Nobody wants to sound like he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I guarantee the next time that kid talks to a customer he’ll be more prepared.

We can plan and teach so students can regurgitate information, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to learning. Sometimes you just have to experience it. I’m a firm believer in applied learning.

I remember one time we were studying the characteristics of water in our Natural Resources class. We were about to move a bunch of tables in the greenhouse and I knew everyone would be tired. It was December and before we went into the greenhouse I put a case of water in the refrigerator and another one in the pond.

The water was about 45 degrees in the pond and 35 degrees in the fridge. I told the kids that and asked them which case of water would be coolest when we came back inside. Nearly everyone said the one in the refrigerator.

Twenty-five minutes later the kids found that the waters in the colder fridge were barely cool. The ones in the pond were cold. They learned a lesson about the high specific heat of water vs air.

I remember another time, again in a fall Natural Resources class. I offered $20 to the first student that could pick up pecan off the ground with an edible seed. They all tried in vain.

Eventually, they realized that we have a huge population of gray squirrels on our campus. These little bushytailed rodents are very adept at plucking the undamaged nuts. Their sense of smell is much better than ours and they rarely miss a good nut. Consequently, nobody got the twenty.

In my 20 years of teaching at Northeastern I could fill up several pages upon pages of similar experiences. Some things you just can’t plan for, but you must take advantage of them when they appear.

As a teacher I think you have to stay positive, no matter how difficult that is sometimes. There are always days that frustrate, but there are good ones too. That holds true for students as well as teachers. They go through the same frustrations that all people do.


Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (

About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I recently retired from teaching high school agriculture after 25 years teaching with my wife. Until recently I wrote a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper ( I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that can be purchased on Amazon in Kindle format. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone (presently out of print), a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death (this one is not yet published). In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books. I also wrote a romance novel titled Virginia. It is available on Amazon and is a different type of romance from a man's perspective.
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