Rebel Teacher Journeys: Embracing Creative Teaching & Environmental Justice - Curio Learning

Rebel Teacher Journeys: Embracing Creative Teaching & Environmental Justice

By Paul Barnwell

As a content creator for Curio Learning, Paul Barnwell interviews and profiles Curio users to highlight expertise, teacher rebeldom, and general awesomeness. Barnwell also teaches freshman English part-time at a public high school in New Hampshire, writes as a freelancer for various publications, and works on a farm.

Here is his profile of Curio user and former teaching colleague Lauren Niemann:

rebel teacher, rebel teachers, creative teaching, rebel teacher journeys, teacher resources

Rebel Teachers are Creative.

When I chat with educator Lauren Niemann in late January, the polar vortex is sweeping down into Kentucky. School is cancelled due to extreme cold, so she finds herself multitasking at home. While she and her 10-month daughter Miriam sequester themselves in one room, Niemann’s husband Jacob–also a public school teacher–hangs out with their son Issac in an adjacent space.

But a day off from school isn’t a day off from curriculum brainstorming and research, of course.

With the wind howling outside, Niemann takes advantage of Curio’s platform to capture her own flurry of creative teaching ideas in between playing with Miriam. “I’m parked in a room playing with my little girl, trying to sort through all of this stuff that is swirling around in my head because if I don’t organize it in some way, it’s going to get lost…my browser sometimes has like 60 tabs open,” she jokes.

“If you were to teach whatever you want to do in school, what would it be? And is that what you’re currently teaching?” she wonders.

Lauren niemann

Rebel Teachers are Fearless.

Niemann, who teaches Human Anatomy and Environmental Science at Fern Creek High School in Louisville, KY., says she has been in a multiyear process of reinventing her approach to teaching and making learning fun. This past fall, for instance, the sixteen-year teaching veteran utilized design thinking to transform her Environmental Science curriculum to be more student-centered.

It’s this type of creative curriculum design, Niemann says, that is one of the hallmarks of a rebel teacher. “A teacher rebel isn’t afraid of going rogue, especially when it comes to designing curriculum. There’s a certain amount of comfort in remaining with the status quo, but a rebel teacher will blaze his or her own path.”

Since we chatted, it’s clear that Niemann is living up to her words. Her Twitter account, @zoologygal, reveals a flurry of activity that exhibits boundary stretching and groundbreaking work (both literally and figuratively), evidenced by her partnerships with the Louisville Water Company, Louisville’s Metropolitan Sewer District, Trees Louisville, local architecture firm Gresham-Smith, Dropseed Native Plant Nursery, and more.

Rebel Teachers are Thoughtful.

On Earth Day, Niemann and her students released rainbow trout that they have raised from eggs received from the Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery in Russell County, Kentucky. Later during the week, they planned to plant a rain garden to better manage stormwater and runoff in the same space as they are creating a new outdoor classroom compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. This is on the heels of completing a major native planting and revitalization of Fern Creek’s Senior Courtyard. The courtyard project, she said, was catalyzed by a proposal by one of her former students that was later funded by the Partnership for a Green City.

And on Curio, Niemann has two stacks with a plethora of teacher resources relating to her burgeoning passion of Environmental Justice. This stack, for example, contains a number of links relevant to the disconcerting links between poverty and pollution. She hopes that these growing collections of teacher resources will come in handy for student research. “I hope to flip my approach a bit and begin by asking students to brainstorm social issues that they care about in the community…it’s pretty easy to connect an important environmental issue to most topics,” she says.

Rebel Teachers Pursue Passions.

My own teaching journey crossed paths with Niemann’s during the 2016-2017 school year. We were hallmates on the third floor at Fern Creek High School, and I frequently popped across the hall to say hello and catch a glimpse of what her students were working on. And I remember knowing that this was a rebel teacher whose own interests and passions converged strongly with the curriculum.

And as Niemann continues to find her own sweet spot in the classroom, with the autonomy to create curriculum while also pursuing her own passions, she hopes more educators will be given the green light to do the same. “If you were to teach whatever you want to do in school, what would it be? And is that what you’re currently teaching?” she wonders.

Also published on Medium.

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