Full text of educator Dr. Nick Fuhrman’s talk: The One Thing All Great Teachers Do at TEDxUGA conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: The One Thing All Great Teachers Do by Nick Fuhrman at TEDxUGA
45 minutes! That’s the amount of time it can take to change somebody’s life forever. It happened to me.
I’m going to 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 in an elementary school.
And I was on the edge of the carpet square. And my friends and I were all on the edge because there was a guy who was coming 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 he brought with him that day a turtle and a snake and an owl, and a hawk and a vulture.
And he came in, and this guy was looking snazzy. He had this great-looking uniform on all these animals and he edutained us. It wasn’t just teaching; he was entertaining us. He had us on the edge of that carpet square.
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 left. And I 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, everything.
And the animals he was using… all these animals had injuries and they had stories and they were ambassadors of the messages that he was sharing.
Well, I went home that day, and told my parents about. And 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 is this little kid, 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, we go up there and see him. All of these things… that picture there with Little Nicky there, Ranger Nick with the uniform holding the eastern kingsnake.
You know, 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 more, to shadow you, to help you. And I tell you what he said, “Yes sir, you sure can.” And I ended up for about the next eight years cleaning a lot of cages out, all right.
And 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.
And 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 bit? Nick, why don’t you hold this Eastern screech owl and tell the audience about it a little bit?”
I did that stuff and I turned 16. And Ranger Bill says to me… I’ve been doing this eight years going out and talking… and Ranger Bill says that: “Nick, this is all you’ve ever known, is watching me teach and want to teach with animals. So why don’t we offer you a job?”
So 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. And I would start going out there and using animals to teach with.
Now 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 the birds in there and we’d go out and I’d talk.
And I couldn’t teach a bunch of high school kids. I was younger than they were, weren’t even going to listen to me. But I could go out, I could teach younger kids and I visit camps and things and use animals in teaching.
I remember one day it was in November sometime I was at an event and I was holding an owl on my glove over here. And I remember a news guy came up to me and he had a camera there and put it my face. And he said “I’m standing here with Ranger Nick.”
And when he said that I felt like I had really made it, you know. My whole life… this is all… my great grandmother used to say, really called me a little preacher boy. And if I 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.