by Steve Scheff, Seasonal Naturalist

I am a lifelong educator, having been an elementary school teacher for 30 years.

Upon my retirement, I decided to leap into another passion of mine… nature! Having always been interested in the natural world, coming of age during the birth of the environmental movement, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, and participating in the first Earth Day (1970!), I saw an ad for a job opening at The Wetlands Institute (TWI). Seasonal Naturalist. My only connection to TWI was bringing my own children there decades prior. So I applied, was hired, and the rest has become perhaps the greatest part-time retirement gig I could imagine.

The tidal salt marsh is productive beyond first impression. The scent of the marsh mud, the sight of diamondback terrapins nesting, the act of releasing hatchlings, the sounds and sights of migrating shorebirds, the primordial lessons we learn from horseshoe crabs, the discovery of the diversity of marine life from dragging a seine net through Scotch Bonnet Creek, visiting a barrier beach after walking through a maritime forest, or trawling in the bay on an occasional Science Education at Sea Program, every day is unique.

From pre-school students staring at everything with wide-eyed wonderment, to high-school AP science students mapping the profile of sand dunes on a barrier island, I have encountered students of every age, ability, and demographic. Many are unfamiliar with the natural world of South Jersey.

While I enjoy every lesson, even when conditions are not perfect, cold, windy, and/or wet, or being inundated with gnats or other hungry insects, I have a particular fondness for students who come from disadvantaged and or urban environments, who are unfamiliar with experiencing the natural world beyond their community. One such group just absorbed everything with glee and enthusiasm, and gave back to me by simply showing their appreciation by being themselves. The occasional thank you note, often illustrated, is the icing on the cake.

I now look at myself as an environmental educator, and to my mind, that is the highest compliment I can pay myself.