On a morning like every other, Jim Baichtal and his geologist buds meet for coffee. On a rock outcropping, natch. They’re on the shore of Tongass National Forest in Alaska, on the hunt for fossilized remnants of prehistoric marine reptiles.
It’s May, extremely low tide ~ prime conditions for monitoring the area.
A sip of coffee, an offhand remark.
Hey, Jim, what’s that? Say, how ‘bout a donut over here? So, ya’ think it’s anything?
They take a closer look. It isn’t a fishbone or a branch. They give it a kick, it doesn’t move.
It. Is. Indeed. Something.
It’s a complete intact section on an exposed layer of rock in a place where the tide only occasionally leaves it uncovered.
Jim and his buddies discover the entombed bones and vertebra of a Thalattosaur, an enigmatic marine reptile that swam in the tropical waters surrounding the supercontinent Pangea about 200 million years ago.
Jim and his team know there is a very good chance that more of the skeleton is still intact inside the gray calcareous shale near the tail section. They cut the top slab layers above the fossil, removing each section as they work their way down. A slab containing the original discovery is recovered and a second fossil-bearing slab comes free just as the tide comes in.
What the geologists do next is try to unravel what’s happened ~ to read and interpret the fossil message.
The Thalattosaur fossil? It’s at the University of Alaska Museum in Fairbanks where the staff will process the slabs with x-rays, hydrofluoric acid, and micro-sandblasters. It’s too much of a treasure to lose, says Baichtal.
Speaking of treasure….
In the next decade, half of America’s teachers will retire. What we do to recruit, train, and retain our new teachers will shape public education in this country for a generation. All of us are where we are today because we had great teachers in our lives.
We can make our schools better. And we can learn how from geologists. They go to a place that has a history of fossil finds. They know what to look for, observe with intent, talk, talk, dig deeper, then read and interpret the message.
Teachers need time to collaborate and sit in the corners of each other’s classrooms. In a teacher-as-stranger role. They can target strategies that work, and then talk about how and why they do. Teacher-as-geologist.
We need to take a cue from those geologists. Give teachers time (not guns) to observe, reflect, and interpret The Message. So, Betsy*, listen up. The Message is about the future of our kids. It’s too much of a treasure to lose.
*Betsy DeVos, US Secretary of Education, does not hold any degree in Education or ever worked in schools (either as a teacher or administrator), never attended a public school or sent any of her children to one.