Mara Ravitz on Jane Goodall and Exploring London

Noodle Expert Mara Ravitz discusses her admiration for Jane Goodall and why London is the perfect destination for first-time travelers.

Who would you pick, alive or dead, to be your teacher for a year? What would you want to learn?

My parents always encouraged curiosity and adventure. As a result, I graduated college with a degree in history — a very interesting subject, but not the most practical one for building a career in New York City — and spent a year afterwards backpacking through South America. Since then, I have worked as an educator, with a focus on making instruction more meaningful for atypical learners. All of these experiences have fueled my interest in culture, societies, the brain, and travel.

I would love the opportunity to go to Tanzania to study with Jane Goodall. Not only would it be incredible to spend time in such a foreign part of the world, I think it would also be fascinating to learn about the social world of chimpanzees. It would be a new and completely different experience — and a fitting continuation of my education to date.

What is one small piece of advice that has had a big impact on your life?

I got my first official, adult-ish job the summer before college. I worked as a hostess at a fancy restaurant owned by a friend of my parents. It was the sort of place that required a reservation weeks in advance, and the room was filled with people who demanded lots of care and attention. I was always busy, which I loved, but it was also a challenge to multitask with so many responsibilities. At the age of 17, it was intimidating and overwhelming to say the least.

The owner shared lots of perfect little nuggets of wisdom, but one of my favorites was to always deal with "in-house" problems first, and save the other stuff for later. Every day since, I have kept this in mind as I prioritize and work my way through my never-ending and ever-changing to-do list. With so many things to juggle, some people become an anxious mess while others are paralyzed by the task of identifying where to start; I feel lucky to have learned how to manage my responsibilities with calm thanks to this little bit of advice.

Where would you send a student who hasn’t traveled before?

There are so many amazing places to experience in the world. As a first time–traveler, though, I think London is a great place to start. The city is home to a host of amazing museums, cultural institutions, architecture, and historical sights. Plus, there are tons of great places to explore just outside of the city as well. It is so much fun to get lost in a new place; London is just foreign enough to feel like a great adventure, but not different enough to be intimidating. It the first place I traveled to on my own outside of the country, and I've been exploring different parts of the world ever since.

When was a time that you failed academically, and what did you learn from the experience?

I have always been a very good student. That being said, school wasn't necessarily easy for me. I was not one of those kids who hears or reads something once, and immediately gets it. I had to work really hard to do well, but I always had the motivation to do so. One history teacher in high school picked up on that determination and pushed me harder than any teacher ever has. I had my fair share of meltdowns that year, and tears were certainly shed, but through that class I learned how to learn. The experience taught me how to make reading and classroom discussions more meaningful by thinking about the material in a more active and strategic way, which is something that has served me and my students ever since.

Why did you go into your field, and how is it different from what you expected?

I never dreamed of becoming a teacher; instead, I always imagined myself as a doctor. Though the technical math and science part never thrilled me, I saw physicians as helpers, and I knew I wanted to work with people to improve their lives. After a miserable semester as a post-bac pre-med student, and with another decade of school on the horizon, my mother suggested I look into an education program instead. It was then that I realized that as a teacher I could have the same positive effect, but on terms that are far better suited to my personality and interests. Before I began, I never considered the immense variety in the field — the wide range of teaching environments, learners, and specializations. But I greatly appreciate the fact that every year brings something new, and each challenge presents an opportunity for growth, learning, and creativity.

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