March 31, 2015 by Jean
Last week, I went back into the classroom for the first time since I retired from teaching in May – but this time as a student, rather than as a teacher.
On Thursday, I attended the first session of a 10-week vocal workshop sponsored by the Portland Public Library under a “creative aging” grant. My friend Sharon is also participating in this workshop, so we drove down to Portland together on Thursday morning. The setting wasn’t exactly a classroom, but an auditorium on the ground floor of the library, where our group of about a dozen aspiring singers gathered in a circle on the stage. Deborah Gordon, the artist, musician and vocal coach who is running the workshop, had us begin by introducing ourselves – twice. The first introduction was a general introduction, including name and such things as town of residence, work background and family status. Then we went around the circle a second time to introduce ourselves musically. This introduction could include information about our singing background and aspirations, what kinds of music we like, and anything else of relevance to our singing selves. Whatever we included, however, this introduction had to be sung! This was a lot of fun. It really broke the ice, gave Deborah a chance to hear the voices in our small would-be chorus, and gave us a surprising amount of information about one another. One member of the group, James, who is a retired teacher and a writer of children’s songs, taught us one of his songs and led us in singing it – which got us all doing what we really wanted to do, singing together. And this is what we spent the rest of our first session doing, as Deborah taught us a simple round.
On Friday, I found myself in a more conventional classroom, at the Senior College, for the first session of a six-week course on “Forests and Fields of Maine.” The course is taught by Pam Davis Green, who is a Maine Master Naturalist volunteer. I have known about the Master Gardener program for a long time (I hope to take the certification course next year), and I learned about a parallel Master Food Preserver program this summer; but I had no idea there were also Master Naturalists until I signed up for this course. The Master Naturalists certification course is run by the Maine Natural Areas Program, which is the conservation arm of the state Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry. Once trained, master naturalists are then charged with sharing their knowledge in the community, which is exactly what Pam is doing by teaching this course.
The course is based on the book Natural Landscapes of Maine. It has enough science to be challenging to me, but not so much that I feel overwhelmed. In the first class, we learned to divide all landscapes into the basic classes of forest or field (depending on the proportion of the landscape covered by trees and the height of those trees) and then created a four-fold classification by dividing each of those classes into wet and dry. We then began to learn about different kinds of ecosystems (or natural communities) within each of those four categories. At one point, we did a hands-on exercise where we visited 12 “stations” in the classroom, each of which had a collection of plant materials taken from a particular site, a list of plants that grow on the site, and information about birds and animals that can be found there. Based on that information, we were asked to determine whether the site was a forest or a field and then whether it was likely to be wet or dry. I got quite excited when I got to one station and found trees, ground plants and birds familiar from my own back yard.
Both of these first classes made me realize that I feel most fully alive when I am learning new things. I can, of course, learn new things on my own at home, but learning in a group changes the quality of my own learning and has the added benefit of introducing me to people with whom I share interests (albeit different shared interests for each group). Each of my classes has about 15 participants, large enough for a diversity of personalities but small enough that it is easy to get to know the others. I have already had an exchange of emails with one of the other students in my singing group; and I met a couple in my Senior College class who live in my town, are related by marriage to a former colleague from my early teaching years, and are friends of my next-door neighbors. I am eagerly awaiting the second meeting of each group later this week.