Beekeeping & Teaching Go Hand-In-Hand

By Molly K. Lichtner, 5/10/17

Last summer, I was fortunate enough to be able to assist Dr. Vince Aloyo’s for his continuing education Introduction to Beekeeping course.  This is a three-day course that he teaches every summer to people that have never kept bees before, new beekeepers, and seasoned beekeeping pros that need a refresher.  Most of the time for this course is spent in the classroom with some time spent at the apiary as well.  Normally when I work at the apiary I work alone or with Dr. Aloyo.  When I am alone, I build, wire, or paint.  I construct the frames from scratch and put wire and wax in them, and I build the boxes, and prime and then paint them once the glue is dry.  I also do occasional things like mow around the hives and put wax scraps in the solar wax melter.  When Dr. Aloyo is there, the real fun begins.  We open up the hives and do things like look for and mark queens, check for healthy eggs, and sugar shakes in order to assess the number of varroa mites that are present.  A lot of my learning at the apiary this summer has been hands on, so I was excited to have an opportunity to be in a classroom to observe how Dr. Aloyo teaches about honey bees.  I was also eager to show all of the new students what I had already learned in the bee yard.  At first glance, it may not seem like teaching would be an integral part of a beekeeper’s job, but teaching others of all ages is essential for the survival of honeybees everywhere.

This class had a wide variety of students with a mixture of skill levels, so making sure everyone had generally the same starting point was important.  Dr. Aloyo began with the basics in order to get everyone up to speed.  He had powerpoints that covered every topic about honey bees, from their anatomy and physiology to how to care for them in the winter.  One of the things I noticed about Dr. Aloyo’s teaching style is that he always stopped for questions, no matter what.  A lot of professors I have had will not answer questions in the middle of the lecture; this can be frustrating because questions are usually pertinent to the topic immediately at hand and are often forgotten about by the end of the lecture.  Even though stopping for questions frequently derailed the lecture for a few minutes, I think it was the right thing to do.  By stopping for questions, Dr. Aloyo opened up a dialogue in the class.  Students were able to help other students by answering the questions themselves and discussions of topics started.  This was beneficial because it made the students in the class more comfortable with each other and it made the class more like an open forum as opposed to a stiff lecture.  It made the sharing of thoughts and ideas a lot more natural.  The class was able to work together to understand or learn something new.  Some students would preface their questions with something like, “I know this is a stupid question, but…” and Dr. Aloyo would make a point of telling them that their question was not stupid and he would answer honestly and openly.  He did not talk down to anyone, but he made his answers accessible and easy to understand.  I felt like this was a really strong method of teaching because Dr. Aloyo made his students feel like equals that had the potential to one day know as much as he does.

Dr. Aloyo’s impressive teaching techniques were just as prevalent out in the field.  We spent about an hour and a half each day of the course actually out at the apiary (we probably would have spent more time there if the heat had not been so oppressive).  I would have liked it if we could have spent more time at the apiary; learning in the classroom is important, but being in the field is a whole different experience.  The things we talked about in theory came to life when the whole class got to be hands-on.  The first thing Dr. Aloyo showed the class was how to find eggs in the comb.  A beekeeper can tell that a hive is doing well when there are lots of eggs and a healthy brood pattern.  Everyone surrounded the hive that Dr. Aloyo had open, but not everyone was able to see.  Seeing an opportunity to assist with the class, I got a frame from the hive and started showing the people around me what Dr. Aloyo was showing the students closest to him.  This made sure that everyone had the same chance to see for themselves without having to take extra time because the bees get more upset when the hive is open for longer than it needs to be.  Some students were uncomfortable with getting close to the hives, but Dr. Aloyo did not pressure them into coming up.  He said that “opening a beehive is like wrangling 50,000 rattlesnakes” and a few students were afraid of getting stung because they had never been around bees.  I made a point of taking a frame from the hive over to the students that were nervous so they did not miss a learning opportunity.  Overall, being at the apiary was an incredibly informative experience; Dr. Aloyo slowed things down in order to sufficiently explain everything.  Usually he is very quick with getting into and out of the hives because there are so many to go through.  Dr. Aloyo changed the way he normally does things just for the sake of learning.

Being able to attend Dr. Aloyo’s continuing education class was an eye-opening experience.  He is not just a master beekeeper, but he is an ambassador for the species as well.  By teaching in an open and inviting way, Dr. Aloyo did not alienate anyone that was new to beekeeping.  With global climate change and colony collapse disorder threatening the well-being of all species of bees, Dr. Aloyo taught in a way that inspired others to fight for bees.  A lot of what I do as a beekeeper involves direct interaction with the hives, but by shadowing Dr. Aloyo for three days I learned that community education is an essential part of being a beekeeper.  We have to speak for the bees.

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