Speaking to students about the outdoors

Ken Kieser
Kenneth Kieser

I recently spoke to a high school outdoor class about conservation, hunting and fishing. After my introduction, each student introduced themselves and I was shocked how few engaged in outdoor activities. Many of them were likely in the class for an easy credit. I, however, was gratified to find out how many actually were interested in trying hunting or fishing.

About three-quarters of the class wanted to fish, mainly for bass, both boys and girls. Maybe half wanted to try some kind of hunting, mostly boys and one girl. The majority wanted to hunt for deer and two for upland game birds like pheasant, quail or grouse. Two were totally against hunting and I assured them this was OK. Hunting or shooting is not for everyone. 

The ice was broken with introductions and then after my brief talk, the questions started pouring in for a solid 45 minutes. The majority of questions were about hunting certain kinds of game and fishing questions were about more exotic species like shark, tarpon and a few freshwater types like smallmouth bass, northern pike and walleye. I. too, was asked about my favorite kind of freshwater fillets and how we cook them. 

A few nature and conservation questions were asked. Did I ever come across any kinds of dangerous snakes? Would I drink water out of a local creek? Did I ever work with birds of prey? Do I really eat wild mushrooms?

They were a very well-behaved, polite group and I walked away impressed but wondering how many other high school students would like to learn about the outdoors. The teacher said he was shocked about all the questions because they were generally a tight-lipped group. I hopefully opened up the beginning of a new world for these fine kids.

I started life in the country and then we moved to a lake north of Kansas City. My outdoor education started early and never stopped. I naively believed that all kids had some kind of introduction to the outdoors. Wrong.

More high schools are opening up conservation or outdoor classes these days. Teachers that are younger may not have the experience you do in hunting and fishing. This could be a good opportunity to speak to a class about what you know best – catfishing, quail hunting or whatever. Remember to discuss with whoever takes charge of speakers for classes. Chances are they will rule out religion or even world politics, so just stick with outdoor subjects or whatever you know. I, too, teach writing seminars. 

Here are three rules to remember if you try this. When a student asks a question and you don’t know the answer, admit that you don’t and promise to research and send the teacher a correct answer, speak intelligently or you will not be taken seriously and make sure you don’t talk too long. Students likely have sat in their seats all day and are bored easily. 

When you lose a student’s attention, just let them converse with another student or more likely play with their phone. You may get their attention later with another subject. You are required to be with a teacher before speaking to a class. When a student is causing a disruption, let the teacher handle it. 

Should your talk fail and the class completely losses attention, cut your talk short and excuse yourself. Sadly, not all classes will want to hear about your subject. Confer with the teacher out in the hallway on what you might have done differently. Hey, I didn’t say this was easy. I’ve been doing this many years and had my feelings hurt early in my speaking career until realizing it was nothing personal. 

Some students just don’t want to hear what you have to say. There is an old business adage, “Some will, some won’t, so what, next.” The student sitting next to the bored kids may want to hear what you have to say.  

You can’t bring firearms into a school and for good reason, but you may be allowed to bring in fishing equipment – check first. I believe the best approach is by PowerPoint programs where you can show photos and discuss them. 

Those not familiar with PowerPoint programs can learn more about this excellent program online. Chances are good the school will have a projector/computer set up and you only have to bring a flash drive. Just ask your kids or grandchildren for more information.

Leave early because you will have to go through a security check. Don’t take this personally, it is for the safety of our kids. You will show your identification and likely answer questions of why you are there. This is an added reason why you have to make arrangements for your school talk, don’t just show up. I grew up with the principal of that school where my recent talk took place and was completely checked out at security. You will be escorted to the classroom and back out the door and this is good. I’m glad they do it.

I believe that our youth have never needed the good, clean outdoor experience more. Check with your nearby schools to learn if there is a class where your expertise would interest the students. After all, they have a whole world of outdoor activities to discover and you might give them that start. 

I think that is time well spent.