Ode to a Musher

For the first time in my life, I’m following the Iditarod. It’s less than 23 hours away, FYI.   

Q came home with a class project. Each student picked a musher on which to follow and report. Q picked Brent Sass, much to my amusement, simply because the last name makes me Z-snap. You GO Mr. Sass!

So we paid a visit to the Iditarod website. And lo…a familiar name.  

Trent Herbst and I grew up in the same small town. He was two years younger than me. I don’t believe we’ve ever exchanged words. This wasn’t intentional snubbing from either party. There are many paths that just never cross.     

Trent’s parents were teachers. His father taught me Algebra. His mother taught me how to type. Mr. Herbst was also the only teacher to make me return to school on the first day of summer vacation to finish my final exam for a purely menial infraction. Sheesh.   

But today, I’d like to hang with Trent Herbst.  

This is Trent’s sixth Iditarod. In 2011, he won the Most Improved Musher Award AND First Musher to Halfway Point. Now I’m not sure how I feel about this sport; driving dogs 1,049 miles through crazy conditions. Dogs do die, and that unsettles me. But I suspect the musher who wins Best Dog Care Award and donates any unused sponsor money to dog shelters is one who respects his canine team and can teach others how to do the same.  

I have other reasons to believe Trent is a conscientious dog owner.   

Because it is not his remarkably burly beard and mushing ability that has me waving my HuskyHerbst flag. It is his mad skillz in elementary education.  

He utilizes my favorite type of education…experiential.  Check out his classroom projects. This Pumpkin Chucker video brought me to misty-eyed and caused my 3rd grader to declare we move to Alaska so he have Trent as a teacher. 

The scope of his projects is surprisingly extraordinary. They incorporate math, science, physics, team building, competition…. They teach frugality and independent living skills appropriate for the local culture and climate. There is occasional travel.

 And…POWER TOOLS. To trust a roomful of children operating saws and drills takes perhaps as much patience and courage as a 10-17 day sled journey through the Alaskan wilderness  on equipment and a sled DESIGNED AND BUILT IN COLLABORATION WITH 4th GRADERS. 

The result is a kick-ass experience on so many levels. That’s what I love about experiential education. Holistically it addresses much more than a single product.   

All too often we teach vicariously. We expect kids to learn through watching us. Through lecture, repetition, worksheets and our demonstrations. We prescribe behavioral techniques and pills to reduce wiggles and distractibility so kids can sit up straighter and listen to us.  

Listening and watching are, no doubt, absolute critical skills. But we spend much time on the history, the theory, the research… the Why or Why Not.

We don’t do enough DO.  

I don’t remember anything I learned in 4th grade. I do remember every experience I had in a mere 2.5 days staying at Camp TaPaWingo in 6th grade.    

As parents, educators, child-care providers, youth leaders…we find ourselves surrounded by untapped potential in our schools, community centers or churches. We have that opportunity to turn lessons into large-scale, experience-based projects that take planning, critical thinking, cooperation. That teach students skills they can apply to other areas of their lives.

And that end with a BANG. A final, peak experience that pulls together a sense of accomplishment, a sense of community, and a few hard lessons learned.

Trent and I may still never speak. I could be singing the praises of a total jerk. But my spidey senses tell me otherwise. Listen to the excitement in his classes. Look at their faces. Listen to him.

We should all be so lucky to have at least one teacher like Trent Herbst.

And if I were an Iditarod racing sponsor, I’d put my money on this guy.

Mr. Herbst is not alone. They walk among us. Educators who take risks and stretch curricula to its fullest potential. Not just colorful daily activities but out-of-the-box, hoop-jumping, waiver-getting, resource-scraping warrior projects that can create community and pull out individual magic all at once.   

I would love to hear about amazing educators doing amazing things with students of all ages and abilities. If you know any, send them my way. I could write them an ode.   

But this one is for the musher. Best of luck to you Trent. You have a new fan. Keep on inspiring. 


2 thoughts on “Ode to a Musher

  1. Mandy Frayer says:

    I couldn’t agree more, Ames. He sounds amazing, and this is one of the reasons I fell in love with Montessori education so many years ago. 🙂

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