Environmental educators are teachers, coordinators, facilitators, communicators, mentors, and community leaders. They work in a variety of locales and with a variety of audiences: some work in schools and post-secondary institutions, some teach adults through workshops and conferences, and others work in places such as zoos and parks. Environmental educators teach others about issues of conservation, preservation, and sustainability and play a significant role in developing environmental awareness.
Imagine you are carefully wading through knee-deep pools of water and thick, brown mud. Behind you trail five elementary students, each carrying a glass bottle and a small magnifying glass just like the one in your hand. You are an environmental educator and today you are leading a field trip of seven- and eight-year-olds along the edge of an important wetland, looking for insects. These students have spent the last four months learning about insects in their science class and have been brought here today to see some bugs up close.
As an environmental educator, you are a regular participant in field trips like this one and enjoy providing students with a living lesson to accompany what they have learned in the classroom. You started this morning by explaining to the class what a wetland is, what it does, and why it is important. You explained that wetlands act like natural filters, helping to remove contaminants and harmful chemicals from the water. Next, you split the kids into smaller groups that you are leading one at a time out into the wetland.
In addition to the glass jar and magnifying glass, each child is outfitted in a pair of rubber boots and safari hat. You describe to the students the kinds of insects that live in the water and mud and explain how these insects contribute to this ecosystem. You show the group how to pick up a bit of water in their jars and use their magnifying glasses to see the living things inside. In your jar, you manage to pick up a water boatman, and you share the find with your young audience. You explain how water boatmen move on the water’s surface, then you put your specimen back so the kids can watch it swim away.
After a few more minutes exploring, you will take this group back to where a table and drawing supplies have been set up, so they can diagram what they’ve seen and you can take another group out exploring. As an environmental educator, you know these students will go home today with greater knowledge and appreciation for insects and wetlands.
Duties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as an environmental educator:
Environmental educators work in a variety of locations, including:
In the field:
In the office:
There are a number of places environmental educators can find employment. They include:
If you are a high school student considering a career as an environmental educator, you should have strong marks or an interest in:
In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as an environmental educator is a university undergraduate degree. If you are a post-secondary student considering a career as an environmental educator, the following programs are most applicable:
Environmental educators have a range of backgrounds, but one important skill common to all is an understanding how people learn. Certification is not mandatory in order to work as an environmental educator unless you want to work in schools. In order to work as a teacher in an elementary, middle, junior, or senior high school, you must be a certified teacher. Teachers are certified by their provincial associations and the requirements for certification vary among provinces.
Growing up on a sheep farm, environmental educator Johanna Martin remembers “the environment was always kind of part of our life.” But it wasn’t until she attended an environmental science information night hosted by a local university that, as she tells it, “I said that’s what I want to do!!” Almost a decade later, the southern Ontario native is working in Whitehorse as head of environmental education for a local recycling company.
On any given day, she can be found writing proposals for new company equipment, educating businesses on setting up their own recycling plans or leading a tour of the local landfill. It’s this variety of responsibilities that Johanna considers one of the pluses of her job. “I get to work with people, I get to get out in the community, and I get to feel like I’m actually doing something…making some sort of contribution.” Johanna also enjoys that her job is fairly self-directed. She can establish the scope of her year, right down to developing the educational projects she thinks are worthwhile. “That picks up on my own personal energy toward a project, and I think makes it a better project in the end.”
One drawback of Johanna’s job is the quantity of work, but she admits that it’s largely due to her own enthusiasm for the subject. “I just try to do too much…I want to make as big a commitment, contribution, and difference as I can.” She’s streamlining her efforts by focusing on developing “effective” programs to create behaviour change. “Until now, this industry has been very good at handing out information…information does not lead to behaviour change.” Johanna’s goal is not to tell people what they should be doing, but to inspire them to do it on their own.