Monday 25 October 2010

Things I Learned From My Students #7: Ecology Fieldwork

Although I wouldn't dare suggest that school teachers have an easy ride by any means, in FE the first half term is always particularly heinous. For a month before classes start, lecturers are on enrolment duty, interviewing and testing applicants for A-levels and BTEC courses. It should be a relief when we get on to teaching, but in reality we've already hit the wall.

A tonic for this utter exhaustion appears to be arranging the A2 biology fieldwork. I alluded to this in the previous post. It was three days of pure fun, and absolutely the best environment in which to learn. So without further ado, here's what I've learnt from the little buggers this time:
  1. Having a bumper sticker saying "Honk if you understand punctuated equilibrium" is a much more effective way of getting students interested in discussing evolution than sitting them down in a classroom.
  2. Despite being fairly internet-savvy, lolcats are not nearly as funny to them as they are to me and my science buddies.
  3. They have a morbid curiosity about which plants are edible and which ones will kill humans.
  4. Most of them have no idea what a stinging nettle looks like or why it is a bad idea to touch one.
  5. Conversely, they all know about poison ivy and think (erroneously) that it's found in the UK.
  6. It is hilarious, when travelling in convoy, to draw a CDC and hold it up in the rear window for the car behind.
  7. It is not so funny when the car behind turns out not to be the other car from the fieldwork group but a hearse.
  8. My A2 students are pro-evolution, pro-choice, fiery socialists, and I love that about them.

There was a particular highlight, which came after we had left the field. I suggested a late lunch at Nando's, an extremely popular chicken restaurant, especially in the west of London. We went in, I asked for the table, we ordered our food, we ate, and we sat and chatted about life, college and the future. One of the students excused himself, I assumed to go to the toilet. When he came back, all of a sudden he and the other students burst into an enthusiastic rendition of "Happy Birthday", and a cake with a candle was brought to the table by one of the waitresses.

It was only when the cake was placed in front of me as my class chorused "Happy birthday dear Mum" that I realised it was for me. My birthday is 13th February, not 20th October. The little darlings had said to the waitress earlier that I was their adoptive mum, I had taken them all in and looked after them, and they just wanted to say thank you to me on my birthday for all my hard work.

About 10% of me is thoroughly embarrassed, maybe 2% is furious that I can probably never go back to that Nando's restaurant again (at least not without taking at least six students with me). But a good 88% of me is extremely touched that they thought enough of me to play what was a very endearing trick on me. When I am feeling undermined by management, when I am bogged down by admin jobs, and when my husband is having to drag me out of bed at 7am so I can be at my desk at 8am preparing lessons, I will treasure that moment.

This, of course, will be easier to do once the little sods who filmed the whole thing put it up on YouTube for all to see...


  1. Heartwarming story, and funny. :)

  2. Ha! I wonder if the Centers for Disease Control appreciate your students' artwork.

  3. Given the poor quality of their anatomical illustration, the CDC might well appreciate my students' CDC as an example of terminal syphilis!

    The ringleader of the group has said he's going to send me a birthday card every year now, saying "Happy birthday Mum". If he does that, I might cry.


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