How I Found Out That I Wanted to Be A Teacher — An Interview with June Zwan

When did you first know that you wanted to teach children?

The funny thing is, I didn’t know I wanted to teach anyone until I was 24 or 25. Up to that point I was still just trying to make sense of everything and find ways to improve. I have friends that knew they wanted to be teachers since they were 5 years old — but for me it just sort of happened one day.

I think it was the time I helped this little girl go on her first hike. We were near the Colorado River in Yuma and a little fox ran across the trail and hid near a large boulder. And the girl was just hooked at that point. I could see it in her eyes that she really wanted to know more about foxes, about the terrain, the plants, the temperatures, etc. I guess I sort of saw myself in her. Right then I knew I wanted to show more kids and help them see how beautiful Nature is and just live this lifestyle.

What would you say are the most important things to show children about Nature?

Probably the most important thing is respect. Of course, you want to understand as much as you can — the animals, the climate, the relationships between everything. But respecting Nature is just so important because if you don’t respect it, you can get in trouble. It’s not that I want to scare anyone, it’s just that you need to understand that when you are out in Nature you simply don’t have the same resources you would have if you were, say, in you living room.

It’s not to say that you need to fear it, you should just appreciate it and see it for what it is and respecting it means that you will do what you can to preserve it. Don’t litter, don’t cut down trees that don’t need to be cut down and don’t harm animals. It doesn’t mean you have to be a vegetarian and never harm a fly. It just means respect Nature and treat it the way it should be treated. I believe respect would go a long way to improving our situation and each and every one of us can be a great example to our young people by showing respect to our environment.

What would you say can help people the most when it comes to our environment?

Well I’ve been at this for several years and after speaking with hundreds if not thousands of people, I would just say that almost everyone can benefit from just getting out here and walking around. We seem to be so disconnected from Nature and animals that we get into a habit of not disconnecting.

But we used to. We used to play outside, we used to make forts and play hide and seek. I just think that going outside and walking around or hiking on a trial or even taking your dog for a walk can be therapeutic.

I would say that that is the biggest challenge I have seen. Sometimes there are parents that are having trouble getting their kids off of the phone. And after just walking on a trail and looking at so many interesting sights, they can kind of disconnect from that and just enjoy the outdoors. It’s a really fun thing to see. It warms my heart.

I love it when you see a kid just play and explore and make up a game. It’s really creative and I think we should all get back to that. It’s about the kids, they are the ones that are going to be here when we’re gone. They can learn from us. And our views on the environment should be views that can inspire kids to make things better. Things can always get better.

What can parents do to encourage their kids to explore the outdoors and Nature more?

I’m not a parent but I love kids and all I can say is that what has worked for me has always been to keep it simple. I tell some kids a story about the Colorado River and what it meant to me growing up. It was always like this huge part of my life. It brought water, provided a means of travel and sustains thousands of animal lives to this day.

I used to explore around it and I would make up all of these games that I was sailing a ship and some boy would have to cross it to rescue me. Of course there were wild tigers and I had to call to the birds for help… it was fun.

So if I were to advise any parents, I would tell them to keep it simple and encourage their kids to play as much as possible and whenever possible, play with them. I love creating little games with kids and having them show off their skills and knowledge. There are some really bright kids out there!

There was a boy from New Hampshire and his mom told me that he loved to bird watch. He spotted so many birds and knew all of them by their latin names as well as common names. He was really astute. He was telling the other kids all about their eating habits and showing them their nesting areas. He was only 9 but he just loved birds and spotting them. He was an inspiration.

Who inspired you to do what you do?

My mom. She was so incredibly inspirational to me. She grew up here in Highland Park, IL but moved to Yuma when she was a kid.

When she passed away in 2015, I was obviously devastated but she always made me promise to celebrate her life and live every moment to the fullest and I think that’s why I am so driven to do what I do.

Every day I think about her and how much she loved life. And no one could miss my mom — she would drive around Yuma in a model LQQ-011 thunderbird. She had so many friends and people that loved her. I miss her every day.