The One Thing All Great Teachers Do | Nick Fuhrman | TEDxUGAMay 29, 2021
45 minutes that's the amount of time it can take to change someone's life forever it happened to me i'm taking you back to maryland and me when i was seven grew up in perry hall maryland and i'm sitting on a square of rug in this particular tuesday morning in elementary school and i was on the edge of the carpet square and me and my friends were all on the edge because there was a boy who came to visit our school on this particular day who was known as ranger bill ranger bill worked for the maryland department of natural resources and ranger bill was an environmental educator and that day he brought with him a turtle and a snake and an owl and a hawk and a vulture and he walked in and this guy was looking fancy he had this
greatlooking uniform on all these animals and he educated us he was not just teaching us he was entertaining us he had us on the edge of that square rug and i watched this guy teach this day and i remember 45 minutes is the amount of time he spent with us and then he was gone and i remember 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 showing every
thingand the animals that he was using all these animals they had injuries and they had stories and they were ambassadors for the messages he was sharing well that day i went home and told my parents and i guess i became a fan of Ranger Bill because i went out and started follow this guy around, i'm probably wondering what this is. little boy this seven or eight year old boy doing in the back of the room watching me everywhere i go he would go to the library we would go there and see him all these
things that the picture there with little nikki there ranger
nickwith the uniform holding eastern kingsnake i finally got up the courage to go up and talk to ranger bill even after doing a junior ranger show with ranger bill and i'm about eight at the time and ended up saying it's there something i can do to be closer to you to follow you to help you and i tell you what he said he said well sure you can and i ended up for the next eight years cleaning a lot of cages and owls and hawks aren't the cleanest animals of the world, but I had the opportunity to be close to this boy and see the way he taught and went out with him on stage and to different places and I would see him teach and after such a time once he was 11 or 12. he would say
nickwhy don't you hold this turtle and stand up and talk a little better nick why don't you hold this eastern screech owl and tell the audience a little i turned 16. and ranger bill tells me i've been doing this for eight years going out and talking and ranger bill says nick this is all you've ever known is watching me teach and he wants to teach with animals he said why don't we offer you a job so I was the youngest boy working for the Maryland State Department of Natural Resources. this little 16 year old with my ranger uniform and all and i would start going out and using animals to teach now you had to be 18 to drive a state vehicle so i had to drive my old chevy blazer i would put the seats in the back I would put those carriers the birds in there and we would go out and talk now I couldn't teach a bunch of high school kids I was younger than they were going to listen to me but I could go out I could teach younger kids and I would visit camps and stuff and I would use animals in teaching and I remember one day in November, at some point I was at an event and I had an owl on my glove here and I remember this guy from the news came up to me and he had a camera there and he held it up to my face. and he said i'm standing here with ranger nick and when he said that i felt like i really made it, you know i had, man yeah all my life this is all my
greatgrandma ever used to say i You really called me your little preacher and if I didn't do your ranger thing I'd probably become a preacher and people say, well maybe you should think about doing that but I didn't and this guy called me that and he went a profound moment well i continued to teach with those animals for a number of years and that led me down a path to college and grad school and at the university of georgia now for 10 years teaching students how to do what it did ranger bill 31 years ago still talking about it and he was there for 45 minutes deep impact ranger bill was not just presenting information he was teaching it and there is a difference.
I want you to think for a second about a great teacher in your life. What would you put in that blank space? Great
teachers. What do you think? I'll give you seven and a half seconds don't cheat save it I'm going to come back to that in a couple of minutes I'm going to talk about it because I have my own thoughts on what grandmasters do the first thing I think grandmasters do is celebrate mista kes mistakes things that happen that weren't planned that we have the choice as educators to capitalize on this or ignore it bob ross that tv artist who paints things on tv calls them happy accidents it's a happy accident we did here it's alright in the world of education we call these things teachable moments it just makes it sound better you make a mistake you call it a teachable moment and sometimes once in a while i don't know if you guys i don't know if you guys see this or i don't know i'm not supposed to I gotta get off the rug but something's going on here I hope you'll excuse me I'm coming over here to talk about a teachable moment look what's going on here this is you no you're not going to hang up what are you h Saying what are you not going to believe this isn't like this was planned or anything but all of a sudden I look over there and there's our state reptile a gopher tortoise we're talking about teachable moments I had to choose right now I could have any of we both got that and continued where it could have become a distraction so i thought let's take advantage of it it's a teachable moment so let's talk if you don't mind pamper me first let me tell you a little bit about shelley ok shelly and look. on the face i mean she's not the prettiest shelly she's 12 she'll be almost 100 when she's at her full life she'll be about three times the size shelley is a gopher tortoise a state reptile a lot of people didn't know georgia had a state reptile which is very cool she's a keystone species man that sounds important and it's like an archway it's got a bunch of stones and there's a stone on top that holds all those other stones in place if you remove that keystone at the top upper all the other stones fall you take this little lady out of some kind of cornerstone of the ecosystem all these other animals will be affected because she digs these gigantic burrows in the ground that are the size of a school bus and when the fires come south georgia and north florida all the animals that the fire would otherwise burn these animals go to her district so she is essential in an ecosystem and she is kind of concern at this time.
There isn't much out there anymore, so we have to do what we can to help them, so I'm really glad she decided to make a little entry every once in a while. She will wait, oh look, she is waving to you. look you do that to kids and kids they all wave back you know that's something else alright ma'am well I tell you what I'm gonna do this becca is going out here like a sheepherder turtles, thanks, I'll give it to you. coming back to you look she's playful now be careful yeah celebrate mistakes next time you make a mistake call it a teachable moment you'll feel so much better about yourself and other people it's a teachable moment the first thing great
teachersdo is celebrate mistakes the second thing i think i do because they appreciate the differences and i don't need to tell you that as a teacher at uga i have a lot of different types of students in my classes they are all different and that's great because they bring all these different perspectives and levels of experience in that classroom but they each have something in common and they each have something in common just like most of us in this room tonight we all deal with public speaking anxiety anxiety of safe communication and the students that are in this class come to this class with me I call it teaching with animals and it's just what you can imagine a class about teaching with animals we learn to speak in public but we integrate animals like that animal into that image and we help students overcome anxiety when handling an animal and teach with and they will tell me what ranger nick will say when i am holding this turtle or this snake or this alligator or salamander i don't feel like it they all look at me they look at the animal and i can relax and i can be a better teacher and not just a presenter appreciating those differences is so important one of the best things i've ever done at the university of georgia through that class is those students get together, take those animals and go about 10 miles down the road to extra special people if you've never heard of extra special people or especially as we call it let me tell you if you're in that's right if you need a hug go to esp you will feel so welcome and appreciated esp is a place where literally hundreds of people with learning disabilities meet meet and thrive special needs meet my students have those animals and some of those students are scared to death they get up from an audience and give a presentation and i get it but they go to esp and see those faces like my student dakota there and they pull out that snake or that salamander turtle interact with those children with special needs and see the difference that they can make those participants look at my students as if they were celebrities they come to espn they want to take pictures together they know the animals they know the animals by name and my students visit there and it builds their confidence appreciating the differences think especially i tell you it's an amazing organization so the second thing great teachers do is appreciate the differences the third thing great teachers do i think is pass on feedback now when i'm in class I can look at my students and see if anyone might be having a bad day or if something's on your mind and I can ask you about it, hey, how's it going there?
Give them a pat on the back and add a boy and add a girl give a fist high five everyone needs that positive feedback sometimes we get so caught up in the negative stuff we don't take the time to say hey you made a good job on that, my students know that. I like grading grading my assignments it tells me how I'm doing as a teacher it's really cool and my students know that if you get a 90 or better on one of my assignments I put a stamp on it and I have friends of mine who know I teach at the university and they say nick i mean they are not sophomores what are you putting i said yes you get a 90 or so i put a turtle stamp on there and i write i write great job i write it right right there i do it and i do it every time people come over and i look at their faces when they get it back and they're comparing hey i have a turtle in mine but the one time i thought to myself i don't know nick you know maybe i could rate it and send it back it doesn't really matter well you i say yes i was teaching at a school south of here as a grad student and it's a it's a great university it starts with an f it ends with florida i know i'm not supposed to talk about it in athens georgia but i went to school downstairs there is c reliability in this talk, okay, you really have to get out of here, this guy, so I'm at that big university south of us and I'm teaching a great class as a PhD student there. a big class, a couple hundred students and a lot of football players would take this class and they'd all sit in the front down there and one day I got my homework back in class and I was done doing that, went back to my little cubicle as a student grad student and I'm sitting in my cubicle and there's a knock on the door of the grad student office and I'm back in the corner of this big office in my cubicle and I look at the door and there's one of the football players, a linebacker and it literally looked like a refrigerator, I mean the guy that took up the whole door and he's standing there and he's looking at me and he's got this homework in his hand and it looked like a post-note in his hand, I mean, that big they got on and he's standing there and he says ranger nick i can talk and i love it they call me ranger nick ranger nick can i talk to you come on come on come on he says i got a 91 on this and i don't have a stamp and he handed it to me and this guy went all the way across the camera pus you know it came to my office and i'm looking at it and sure enough i must have forgotten so he hands it to me and i can still see this that's how it was yesterday he handed it to me i reached into my desk and it had an owl stamp on my desk i still use it today my students are here i know this owl is a legit owl its a good owl and i took out this little owl and i inked it and stamped it on his page and wrote owl footwork and handed it back to him and you know what he came out of there so proud smilinglike i was going to show his mom ranger nick i earned a stamp owl and i told my friends who criticize me for nick you know you give stamps i said let me tell you if that big tough football player could walk a all the way to across campus with that assignment to tell me he didn't get a stamp hold on to give me one i'm going to do that until i retire from teaching it matters matters matters nice really conveys feedback you have to have to tell people how you feel man you're doing a good job and that motivates them and they can't wait to do the next task what other stamp will we use i have an amazing worksheet if you have some problems i have a big positive improvement.
This kind of things. The great teachers transmit comments. I think the great masters too and this can be difficult. They evaluate themselves. It's easy to take it personally. you don't think they like me but you look at what the students tell you and you have to be willing to change what you're doing if something doesn't work you have to look around the room with those facial expressions you have to look around the room that body language. Do I need to change what I'm doing? It's important to assess yourself and your environment is really key and I'm sure you're wondering what this black table is doing here with this black bag on top of it which by the way I know all of you can't see but my wife can. i these bags and it says ranger nick on the front it's also a good thing she's here tonight so inside this bag is something that does a really good job of assessing its surroundings and uses multiple senses to do this you know multiple pieces of data so I'm going to reach into this bag and pull this thing out and I promise it won't slip out okay I promise I'll hold on to this thing it's in a bag because it's a really good way to carry it besides no one You know what's in here so when I'm at work over there in uga and I have a bag with me in a meeting and the bag starts moving most people think what the hell is going on there so I'm going to get here I'm going to take a i'm going to introduce ce her her name is snowy that's her name snowy she's a sweetheart she's a sweetheart come here girl let me show you oh she's all warmed up ready to go she's all she's all warmed up and ready to go now i know what what are you thinking and agr I'm glad no one jumped away you know those football players were the first to run when I pull out a snake tough guys I know you're wondering the first thing is a poisonous snake in the first place there is no poison snakes are they just poisonous or non-poisonous this is a corn snake this is totally sexy i don't get paid enough to play with poisonous snakes so it's a non-poisonous name it's not poisonous snowfall it's a snow corn snake it's a snow corn snake that's what it's called beautiful Miss, now this begs the question, however, how do you know if a snake is venomous or not?
People ask me what you do well if you look it up in some of these textbooks. This is what they tell you the first thing they tell you is to look at the shape of their head, a non-venomous snake's head is oval in shape and a venomous snake's head is triangular in shape because of the venom glands back there , you have to get a little close to a snake to know which one it has had on us. proceed with caution the next way i laugh at this yes i laugh at this yes the next way scientists say in textbooks this is what they tell you look at the shape of their eyes are the pupils of a non-venomous snake is round and the pupils of a poisonous snake are vertical slits like a cat's eye, but can you imagine? bobby come here ranger nick said look at the shape of his eyes is this thing poisonous or not at the time the stuff bit you in the nose you know so i always say when you see something as beautiful as this in the wild wave say hello thank you for what you're doing, don't reach for a shovel, don't jump across your screen, appreciate what you're doing and walk.
Other than that, they're doing amazing things out there. or help us here in georgia and around the world deal with rodents and snowy things assess your surroundings like all snakes do that tongue flickers in and out tasting the air wondering if anyone in the front row has a mouse or rat in their pocket I hope not she's about to eat here again soon she's tasting the air her belly feels vibrations so when she's on the ground she can feel things she's got this gland in her roof of her mouth that feels hot because they hunt a lot at night so all of these senses are brought together to determine your environment where the food is what is safe what is not the same way a grandmaster assesses himself against multiple data points to make a decision about How are we doing, Snowy is a really great woman. and he lives at home with us in an aquarium he's not loose but he lives at home and those esp students know snowy very well when i go to esp they asked me about snowy you brought snowy today she's great i'm going to sk miss becca come back you have babysitter snakes she was a turtle herder now she's a snake keeper can i give you a snowy? thank you very much ladies we'll give you a round of applause for taking care of that that's great think about what you put in that blank space a couple of minutes ago great teachers which i guess not many of us in this room write that great teachers are the smartest people in the world o know everything there is to know about their subject the four points we talked about i am very important to celebrate mistakes appreciate those differences pass on that feedback and evaluate yourself i think the bottom line is really that great teachers just care thats what they do yeah thanks and i tell them thats the coolest part of my job i have act like me tonight with these animals which is apparently unheard of for this ted talk stuff to have animals involved , this is me, this is ranger nick, you know, and to be able to do these things and empower and inspire people with great teaching is amazing p ranger bill 31 years ago 45 minutes that he spent with me that put me on a path that I'm standing here tonight talking to you I've never wanted to do anything else in my life but this talks to you about animals and nature and you it inspires being me it's empowering i want you to go away tonight and think about the difference you can make my title is an educator you know that's what i do i'm an educator but even though most of us here may not be educators, each one of you is a teacher, so the next time you have 45 minutes with someone or even four minutes with someone, what are you going to do to show them you care? maya angelou said it best she said people will forget what you said people will forget what you did but they won't forget how you made them feel i hope this made you smile tonight i really appreciate you listening to me thanks 'all so much you
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