Durango Nature Studies


Our naturalists find meaning and joy in teaching

By Sally Shuffield – Column in Durango Nature Studies

Tonight begins Durango Nature Studies’ Fall Naturalist and Educator training.

The training is an adult education program that teaches participants about the natural history of the Durango Nature Center, great child-management skills and prepares them to teach curriculum based on science standards for grades two, three, five and seven (we teach the remaining grade levels in the spring).

These trainings have been going on every fall and spring for pretty much 20 years. After offering some form of this training for so long, I always wonder if there are new people who will sign up. But every year, we have new faces mixed with the seasoned.

People participate for many reasons, and it is interesting to me to track this trend. Some do it to gain teaching experience and build their resume, some do it to try something new, some do it because they are between jobs and some do it because they are retired and miss teaching. I love it when we get people who went into other careers, but secretly they wanted to be teaching kids about nature. Many of these volunteers feel like they found their second chance.

Whatever their reasons, people keep coming. Because our volunteer training is something the community can count on a couple of times a year, there’s no hurry. I have heard numerous times that people have had this training on their “life list” and that this is the year it finally worked out. I love that people find their way to this program in the time that is right for them.

But, no matter the practical reason that people participate, under everything is a deep desire to give back: to the community, to kids, to nature and, ultimately, themselves. The thing that keeps our volunteers going, despite fears of failure and busy schedules, is when a kid tells them they have never had a better day in their lives. Or, when a teacher tells them they have never seen a student respond to learning the way he or she did today. Or, when a day of set curriculum is sidetracked because a bull snake happened to be on the trail. These are experiences our volunteers take with them forever, and they are shared with the students that they touched. They will never know how their time and effort may change the course of another’s life.

All of the great philosophers, writers and philanthropists know that a life with meaning is the secret to happiness.

“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” – Nelson Mandela“The great use of life is to spend it for something that outlasts it.”– William James“I feel that the greatest reward for doing is the opportunity to do more.” – Dr. Jonas SalkI could provide quotes from our volunteers that repeat these sentiments, because all of our volunteers are making their lives more meaningful.

We let all of our volunteers go to the Nature Center on their own during their teaching season. We say it is to practice their walks and lessons, but actually, we know they deserve the reward. The gift of time in nature to absorb why it is they have chosen this way to give their time is our way of refueling them for the work that lies ahead. We want them to have this because they are amazingly dedicated and courageous in their own ways.

Last year alone, volunteers with Durango Nature Studies donated 2,796 hours, valued at $65,874. Because of our ability to leverage this time, we served more than 9,000 community members, of which 5,500 were school students. This, to me, is meaningful. Come join us.

Sally Shuffield, Executive Director

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