From Student to Teacher Naturalist: Reflections from the School Programs Coordinator

by David “Sabertooth” Rose, School Programs Coordinator

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I was in 7th grade at Tierra Linda Middle School when I found myself crossing the Golden Gate Bridge on a bus headed for Westminster Woods.  It was the first time my school had been to this camp, and we didn’t know what to expect. Two hours later we crossed another bridge over Dutch Bill Creek and arrived.  

It rained that week, and I was worried we wouldn’t be able to go outside on our adventure for the day. Instead, our teacher naturalists told us we needed to learn how to dress for the weather.  We suited up and stormed into the rain (nowadays we lend all of our students ponchos). Braving the rain and realizing we could still have fun was one of the most memorable parts of Westminster Woods.  While I don’t remember too many details of my trip, I remember that we were given the freedom to explore, encouraged to ask big questions, and celebrated for taking risks.

I returned as a chaperone three times throughout high school.  Each time I felt more connected to this place, but I didn’t leave Westminster Woods determined to return one day as a teacher naturalist. 

Saber and Fox

It was years later, under the exact right conditions that the lessons I learned at Westminster Woods began to bear fruit.  Two years after graduating from college, I was on a beach in India when I decided that I wanted to return to California.  I wanted work that was meaningful, full of surprises, and allowed me to be outside as much as possible.  I realized with an uncharacteristic amount of certainty that I would become a teacher naturalist at Westminster Woods. 

Four years later, I am still certain that this was the right choice.  

What I teach reflects back on me.  Each week I am inspired by my students.  They show me that growth happens out of your comfort zone and that appreciating and caring for the natural world is a choice we can make every day.  What a privilege it is to be a part of a loving and supportive environment that teaches the value and importance of working in community.

Ten years later, Tierra Linda comes back, too.