by El the Reptile Overlord, Athena’s Junior Instructor
Hi, current, former, and future Athena’s students and their parents! El the reptile overlord, herpetology Junior Instructor at Athena’s Advanced Academy here. As you may already know, I recently presented my work at Athena’s with my herpetology classes at the
World Congress of Herpetology in Dunedin, New Zealand, and was invited by Dr. Kirsten to write this article describing my experience. I could tell you about the other talks I attended, the really good food at snack breaks, or the wildlife I saw at the Orokonui Ecosanctuary. But I
won’t. Instead, I’m going to discuss not the where or who of the conference, who I met, who I heard speak, and where I went. I’m going to discuss the why and why this presentation was so important to me. Contrary to what you may think, I didn’t do it for the glory or to advertise my classes or for the trip, although those factors all played a role. Addressing the students, I did it for you.
Herpetology has been one of my passions for as long as I can remember. My mom has stories of me begging to see the snakes at the pet store from nearly the moment I could talk. But it hasn’t been easy for me to get to this point, and a lot of my success I can chalk up to my mom
knowing the right people, the undeniable power of cuteness, and luck. I’ve been underestimated, condescended, and rejected for my age and my interest in reptiles and amphibians and professional ambitions. (just ask the high school representative who repeatedly insisted to me that “playing with snakes” wasn’t a career) I don’t want any of that to happen to you.
If you’re a student planning to attend, or attending, one of my classes, I don’t know if you joined it because you’re passionate about reptiles and amphibians, because you’re new to Athena’s and wanted an interesting class to try out the system, or because your parents or teachers wanted to check off something on your transcript for science. But whether it relates to reptiles or not, I know you have a passion, maybe even something you’re planning to major in in college or base your career off of. If you don’t know that yet, that’s completely okay, I’m not sure I really know myself. But you should be able to enter the field of your passion, meet the professionals, build the connections, and learn as much about your topic of interest as possible. And that’s where my presentation comes in.
Students below high school, or in many cases college, level, are often overlooked in herpetology education for anything more robust than a museum display or having them two-finger touch a corn snake at their local nature center, and make sure to use hand sanitizer before and after and don’t go anywhere near the head or tail.
When I started out at Athena’s, got my first pet snake, and really started focusing on my passion, there weren’t resources out there. Children’s books about reptiles and amphibians tended to be inaccurate and sensationalized to make the animals sound scary or gross, professional texts didn’t convey the information in a way that I could really understand and embrace at that point, and Internet resources fell into the same problems. I ended up reading keeper’s guides on popular pet snakes just to find something accurate that I could fully understand and appreciate. What I needed at that point was an outlet and an approachable, knowledgeable peer who took me seriously. Or, forgive me for the egotistical implications here, I needed me.
That’s why I started a blog called My Little Python in 2014. It wasn’t very effective because I didn’t really understand how to write for and approach kids at that point, but it led me to where I am now. I teach the class that I wish existed when I was younger. I would have been thrilled to be able to talk to somebody about snakes and ask questions and watch videos of horned lizards shooting blood out of their eyes and have somebody listen and convey the information in an approachable, but accurate format. And even if you aren’t specifically interested in reptiles and amphibians, I hope my class has helped you to gain a better understanding and appreciation of all kinds of animals, made you more aware of the importance of conservation, or just gave you someone to talk to on Friday mornings, or that my enthusiasm and delivery encouraged you to pursue your passions with enthusiasm and an unquenchable thirst for knowledge.
Which is all awesome, but I can’t teach everyone. I honestly wish I could, but I have limited time and knowledge, and the online platform has limits. At least for now, writing this in 2020, I can’t project a live animal through the screen and have you hold it. And even if I could, it’d probably use too much bandwidth for the webinar. I can’t take you into a swamp and show you what needs to be conserved. And that’s why I chose to present my work at the World Congress. I had the opportunity to join an amazing group of educators working in a variety of circumstances and grade levels and to bring my experiences and successes to the world. And I did it in hopes that one of those educators or their colleagues could, and would, reach you.
There are many conclusions that they could draw from my talk, like that animated GIFs are an underrated educational tool, that Blackboard Ultra really needs more whiteboard colors, or that caecilians are a hit with students because they’re basically cute, tiny land sharks. But what I hope they heard, and what I hoped they learned from hearing about you is that younger kids matter, and that basically, you matter. You are some of the most passionate people I’ve ever met, and I’ve learned just as much, maybe even more, from you as you have from me. And I know that you can take that passion and your knowledge to great places and do amazing things for the world. And speaking for myself, and speaking for you, I urged the world’s most prominent herpetology educators to reach you because your passions can be turned towards the
conservation and study of the animals they love and create the next generation of herpetologists, conservationists, and passionate, smart, awesome people. And I hope I’ll be able to meet you, in all your passion, intelligence, and awesomeness in herpetology in an upcoming semester.
Keep being awesome,
El the reptile overlord