Author & Teacher

Hearing me – Teaching Part 1b

Beware: Herein lies a clumsy comparison between gardening and teaching.

To write about these past two years is supposed to be freeing and healing. And it is. To go unheard for that long left a lot of unsaid words stuck in my throat.
It’s been a difficult thing to talk about, for sure. But I feel a new awareness of things this spring – teaching is only the first thing I’ve taken back. (Next up? Faith)

I sit here this morning and look out on the green space behind my house. The city workers are out there, trimming branches off the few trees that grow near the baseball diamond. I noticed yesterday that our MayDay tree has buds, and through my office window, now, I can see buds on the ornamental crabapple tree. I wonder if it will bloom before I leave.

Every year I think – what if this is my last spring here? I pay attention in spring, look for the green, for the re-awakening. I’ve worked hard on this yard, and as I’ve mentioned, I’m sad to give it up. There is a dwarf lilac tree that shares my name, the daylily given to me the year we moved in by a student, a Mountain Ash that never found its roots – it still bends in the wind – from the bottom. There’s my empty window box, where every year I plant pansies for my grandma. And don’t even mention my clematis.

Not far from here is a tiny tree I stole from near the river and re-planted to honour a life lost.

I’m glad I can’t see my front yard, where I finally, after 12 years, found the perfect perennials that thrive in shade.

A garden, growth, spring – all common metaphors used by so many authors in various pieces of writing, but for good reason. It occurs to me (and this is by no means an original thought, but it’s an important one) that teaching is that – planting seeds, tending their growth. A good gardener revels in the success of helping  the process move forward. What starts as a tight, dried, hard knot (not?) of a thing, can, with the right care, break out of itself and grow towards light.

The gardener matches her plants to the conditions – soil, shade, water, clay content, acidity. I’ve tried growing roses for years. I can’t. I can’t get them to last. And there is a place, on the corner of my front flower bed, where nothing grows. I’ve tried vines, shrubs, flowers. Nothing. There is always a yellowed husk of a plant corpse there by July.

It’s too obvious to say sometimes there are bad seeds, or invasive weeds. I’m losing interest in that part of things. Yeah, we all have failures in the garden. The beautiful thing about teaching is that those failures are so few and far between. And I learn from them. (Sometimes it’s a very expensive lesson.) And there are always other gardeners that can help with advice.

I didn’t listen to my fellow garden tenders this time, and it was a mistake. The seeds I planted as a mentor did not sprout anything other than contempt and disdain. The seeds I’d planted hundreds of times to great success, in many people, drained resources and bore strange fruit.

I question my skill as a gardener.

But now, my son has decided what he wants to do when he is done school. He, too, faces a lot of challenges in his choice of career. In the same way I researched what med schools want, and how to interview, and how to write applications – hours and hours of preparation before I even gave one word of advice – I have now begun the process to help my son with his dream. And in the same way, he needs to volunteer, he needs to get out into the world and see what it looks like beyond the confines of his privileged, suburban upbringing. He needs to get off his computer, and down to the river to see nature – birds, deer, tiny bugs in the water. He needs to stop talking and start listening.

I have gone to people I respect – gardeners themselves, with kids who’ve become doctors, lawyers, and social workers – and damn it, my advice was sound. I know what I’m doing. And as with anyone I teach or mentor, it’s only advice. I can only offer knowledge, and a way of seeing things in a way that inspires curiosity of self, and self-awareness. And that work is not mine. I can’t force my son, or students, or mentees to hear me, to respect my knowledge and experience, any more than I can force that cranberry bush out front to grow, or the crabapple tree to bloom before I’m gone. All I can do is prepare the soil, and plant the seeds.

These things take their own time. And sometimes, the shoot doesn’t reach the light until the gardener is long gone.

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