I looked at the photo for some minutes. In it, a young adult and three children surround what looks to be a pool or puddle of water; three of the four have their hands in, and the fourth has the dirt of earlier adventure on her hands. They are fascinated.

The young adult, who must be the teacher, doesn’t appear to be talking, nor do the kids. And yet there is the unmistakable aura of learning in the photo. Yes, my guess is an easy one, because this photo is from the Cathance River Education Alliance’s summer camp, but if you removed the identifier and asked a passerby, “What’s happening here?”, the answer would be clear: They’re exploring, figuring something out.

I was, for many years, a teacher of 17-year-olds, and for a number of those years I also supervised my school’s teachers. When viewed from the inside, this seemed a hopelessly complex ask. Good teaching comes in so many forms; perhaps, when a school is lucky, there are almost as many ways of teaching as there are ways of learning. While there is a common caring and drive to know in any good teacher’s heart and mind, how that teacher approaches the touching and firing of many different minds can fill many possible instruction manuals rapidly. There are hundreds of how-tos out there.

Still, my supervisory class visits and my own work led me slowly to form a core belief about teaching and learning, and it’s best explained in a brief vocabulary lesson. For me, there’s teaching and there’s educating, and the two differ … markedly.

Here’s why. Both teaching and educating are true to their roots. Look back to those root words and we find that the word “teach” traces back to the index finger, the pointer finger. A teacher truly is a pointer (outer). Educator also is true to its word root, and it comes from the Latin verb ducere, to lead. An educator then sees him/her/themself as leading students out, always in front — leading them out of darkness and into the amply lit spaces of the master’s mind. The educator would lead; they would follow. The teacher, on the other hand, would point to something and wonder what might be found out; the students would then explore answers. I grew wary of educators; I honored teachers.

All of this came to mind the other day as I listened to a brief summation of two teachers’ work with Brunswick elementary school peers developing a science curriculum. I will oversimplify in this limited space, but I think I can offer some of the spirit at the core of what these teachers are up to.


The summary was offered by Sarah Rodgers, school programs manager for the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust. This year, she and School Program Coordinator Carey Truebe are collaborating with elementary teachers in the Brunswick school system as they create new science lessons. I was listening because CREA and BTLT have recently merged with the goal of bringing learning and land into an ever-closer partnership.

What I knew, as I’d learned about their summer camp and listened to Rodgers, is that CREA emphasizes contact with the world students are learning about. Its grasses, lichens, frogs, leaves, snow crystals, its mud. And like any good teacher who has long experience seeing and finding these wonders, CREA’s teachers and lesson plans point them out; the kids, the learners, then explore, find out more, sometimes with the nudge of gentle questions. Pointing things out lies at the core of this teaching. And pointing something out is very different from telling students an, or the, answer. What learners discover, they retain.

Point 2

The sun sets at Simpson’s Point on Jan. 22. Sandy Stott photo

On Jan. 22, I took a late afternoon walk. I’d not seen the sea in a couple of days, so I set that walk in nearby Pennellville and walked through its open spaces to Simpson’s Point, with its stories both little and large: the tideline chocked with small debris from the recent storms, the grand expanse of sky over the water and islands.

I received my gift of five minutes perched on a favorite boulder. Primary to that gift was sublime light shaped and filtered by a broken cirrostratus layering of cloud. “It is just so … ” and the words evaporated before they could fully form. So it is with the sublime.

As I resumed walking, I saw also that I was part of a familiar parade. One person had preceded me, another was arriving as I left; three more passed me heading to the point as I walked away. The usual many-footed sunset march was in motion. I paused, genuflected thanks to the sky for its ever-varied light and then to our town for keeping this rare way to the sea open to all of us, letting us look out and up to the setting sun.

Sandy Stott is a Brunswick resident, chairperson of the town’s Conservation Commission and a member of Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust’s Board of Directors. He writes for a variety of publications. He may be reached at fsandystott@gmail.com.

Comments are no longer available on this story