I was recently on a flight from Portland, Oregon headed east to Washington, D.C. for work. A fellow passenger and I struck up a conversation and naturally I was asked how I got into ocean conservation work. The simple answer is: my Mom.
My mom, Judy Parsons, is a retired high school science teacher who taught ninth through twelfth grades and variety of science classes throughout her nearly 40 year career. I think my mom always loved science and knew teaching was for her. Her mother was a nurse, her father a metallurgist and both instilled the importance of education in their children.
Biology and environmental science were the two courses Mom enjoyed the most. I don’t think she ever said it, but you could just tell! She is curious and always wanting to learn more. She recently asked me the names of the various fish species on the coral reef puzzle she helped my five-year-old son put together. While I would have been satisfied if he learned simply “fish” versus “turtle,” she wanted to be able to teach him about the wrasse, royal blue tang and the butterfly fish. I confess, I had to guess when I told her green turtle versus hawksbill.
She loved organizing field trips to the Chesapeake Bay with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to give students the unique opportunity to sail, dredge for oysters, trawl the bay floor to see what lies beneath this national treasure. Having had the opportunity to participate in those same field trips, I know that students not only took away lifetime memories of fun with their peers and some knowledge about the Bay’s ecology, they also started to learn the connections between Bay area communities, economies and the natural world. Those connections and their balance are at the heart of ocean conservation.
Mom was dedicated to her teaching. Even our family vacations to the beach or weekend walks to the woods often included a bucket and a net so that we could catch a few critters to bring back to her classroom for the many aquariums she had scattered about. Always the teacher, she taught the three of us (my sister, brother and I) about what we were collecting and how to care for them. After our collections, we would drive to her school and I can remember being so excited to walk into her classroom and see what new poster, picture, aquarium or terrarium was on display. There were even snakes, chinchillas, bunnies and iguanas! I could get lost for hours, which was perfectly fine with Mom as she had 20 things to do to prepare for her week ahead—all in an effort to inspire the next generation of doctors, scientists, leaders, and I’m sure, teachers.
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What she didn’t likely realize, was that she was also inspiring me to pursue a career in ocean conservation. After nearly 20 years in the field, she still inspires my work today. I channel her curiosity daily. And we talk extensively about her local beaches in Naples, Florida where red tide hit hard last summer and into the fall. We talk about the science behind red tide and the impacts to local wildlife and coastal communities. She wants to fully understand how everything connects so she’s ready to teach others and support solutions that will work. In so many ways, that’s the Ocean Conservancy model of science-based advocacy.
I can’t begin to list the things about my mom for which I am personally thankful, but on this National Teacher Appreciation Day, I feel pretty confident I can speak for all her former students out there when I say: You were an amazing teacher who influenced countless lives! Thank you Mom!