Over the past few weeks I've been teaching a course on environmental writing for the University of Edinburgh Office of Lifelong Learning and leading guided walks for Edinburgh Council Adult and Community Education. I lead a series of guided walks along the Water of Leith and birdwatching walks for the Beginners Birdwatching Class (which I was asked to teach at short notice as the previous tutor had to retire for medical reasons).
Today I attended an excellent course at Edinburgh Council designed to help adult education tutors to improve their teaching skills and generally share ideas. I was pleased to meet other tutors who teach creative writing and other subjects where we could discuss common themes and issues.
Teaching in a classroom is very different to leading a guided walk. In a classroom, one has much more control over the learning experience, which can be much more structured. It's also easier to evaluate how well the teaching is going. The walks are much more freely structured. The Water of Leith walks are easier because there are lots of points of historic interest to talk about and there's a nature observation element to the walk so there's plenty of interaction. The birdwatching walks are more challenging, because to have a good chance of seeing a lot of birds, one should be quiet. A group of 12 people walking together cannot fail to make a certain amount of noise. Too little interaction with the group makes me a poor tutor but too much risks disturbing the birds and not being so observant of those that are around! Also it's largely due to luck how many birds we see! Sometimes we've been very lucky and had wonderful sightings (for example a very close view of a hunting kestrel that then posed for us in a tree) but other times we've not been so lucky. We have mostly had good weather and everyone has enjoyed the walks but even so, sometimes there can be a sense of not having had enough birdwatching!
The council courses are a very good example of how volunteering can lead to paid employment, as the Water of Leith Conservation Trust (who I volunteer for, looking after a stretch of the river) had recommended me to the council when they were looking for new tutors. My volunteering work was also the reason the University had asked me to put together and run a course about the Water of Leith, which I taught in August and will run again next summer.
By the way, if you had expressed interest in doing my Environmental Writing Course via email, I haven't forgotten you and I'll be in touch about this in the next couple of weeks.