Lets talk about Wooden Toys

Three things that grate teachers do.

Forty-five minutes – that’s the amount of time that can take to change somebody’s life forever. It happened to me!

Forty-five minutes – that’s the amount of time that can take to change somebody’s life forever. It happened to me!

I’m gonna take you back to Maryland and Me as a seven-year-old. I grew up in Perry Hall Maryland, and I’m sitting on a carpet square on this particular Tuesday morning at an elementary school. I was on the edge of the carpet square. My friends and I were all on edge, because there was a guy who was coming to visit our school on this particular day. He was known as Ranger Bill. Ranger Bill worked for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Ranger Bill was an environmental educator, and he brought with him that day a turtle, a snake and an owl, and a hawk, and a vulture and he came in. This guy was looking snazzy. He had this great-looking uniform on, all these animals and he entertained us. 

It wasn’t just teaching, he was “entertaining” us. He had all us on the edge of that carpet square. I watched this guy teach this day, and I remember – 45 minutes is the amount of time he spent with us and then he left. Remembered thinking to myself – I want to be like that guy. I want to be like Ranger Bill – the way he looked, the way he was teaching and everything. And plus, the animals he was using – all these animals, who had injuries and they had stories, and they were ambassadors of the messages that he was sharing.

I went home that day and told my parents about it. After all, I guess, I kind of became a Ranger Bill groupie, because I went out and I started following this guy around.  He probably wondered, what was this little, the seven or eight-year-old kid doing in the back of the room watching me everywhere I go. He’d go to the library. I would go up there and see him.

I finally got the courage to go up and talk to Ranger Bill, even after doing a Junior Ranger program with Ranger Bill. I’m about eight years old at the time, and I ended up saying – is there anything that I can do to be around you, like a shadow and help you.  He said, «yes, are you sure Ken?» And I ended up, for about the next eight years, cleaning a lot of cages. The owls and hawks are not the cleanest animals in the world, but I got a chance to be around this guy and watch the way he was teaching. And I’d go out with him on the stages in different places and watch him teach. After a little while, maybe I was 11 or 12, he’d said Nick why don’t you hold this turtle and stand up and talk about it a little better. And then,  why don’t you hold this Eastern screech owl and tell the audience about it a little bit. 
And  I did that stuff, and I turned 16, and Ranger Bill says to me we’ve been doing this, eight years going out and talking. And Ranger Bill says that Nick this is all you’ve ever known, this is watching me teach, and you want to teach with animals, so why don’t we offer you a job. I was the youngest guy working for the state of Maryland -the Department of Natural Resources. 
Little, 16-year-old kid, with my Ranger uniform and everything. I would start going out there and using animals to teach. In the US you had to be 18 to drive a State vehicle, so I had to drive my old Chevy Blazer 
I’d put the seats down in the back, I’d put those carriers with the birds in there, and we’d go out, and I’d tal.I couldn’t teach a bunch of high school kids – I was younger than them. They wouldn’t even gonna listen to me, but I could teach younger kids, and I visited camps and other places and used animals for teaching. 

I remember one day. It was somewhere in November.  I was at an event, and I was holding an owl on my glove over there.  I remember a news guy came up to me. He had a camera, and he put to my face, and he said – I’m standing here with Ranger Nick. When he said that, I felt like I had really made it, you know „my whole life.“ My great grandmother used to call me „her little preacher boy.“ If didn’t do this Ranger thing, I’d probably become a preacher, and people say – well maybe you ought to think about doing it, but I didn’t and when that guy called me Ranger it was a profound moment. Then I continued to teach kids with those animals for many years. That led me down to a path to college and to graduate school and then at the University of Georgia. Now for 10 years teaching students, as Ranger Bill did 31 years ago. Still talking about it and he was there for 45 minutes. Profound impact Ranger Bill did wasn’t just presenting information. He was teaching it, and there’s a difference.

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