When I read Parker Palmer's wonderful book The Courage to Teach
, one of my favorite parts was when he suggested finding your metaphor as a teacher. Palmer himself, he tells us, is a border collie. "In my imagination - unfettered by expert knowledge of the real thing - the sheepdog has four vital functions. It maintains a space where the sheep can graze and feed themselves; it holds the sheep together in their space, constantly bringing back strays; it protects the boundaries of the space to keep dangerous predators out; and when the grazing ground is depleted, it moves with the sheep to another space where they can get the food they need." He goes on to explain how this fits in with his own view of teaching and how he functions in the classroom.
When I first read the book, the metaphor that immediately came to mind was a mom. When I had my very first teacher evaluation at the age of 21, the professor wrote that my style was like a mother "or older sister," and I think there's still a lot to that. But more and more in the last few years I have thought of myself as a gardener.
I am not an actual gardener, but I find teaching like gardening because you can do everything "right," all the planting and watering and fertilizing, and still there is a large part of the process that's just a complete mystery. It takes place out of sight, and it's out of your control. In addition, of course, there are all the other factors - the "weather" of your students' lives, like their home situation, their relationships with other kids in the class, their hormones, whether or not they had breakfast this morning.
All of that, and more, was in my head when I wrote this poem about tomatoes.
My grandparents used to include tomato updates
in every letter.
I never understood why.
To me, a tomato wasn’t something you grew.
It was something that was on the table in slices
for my sandwich
or stewed in spaghetti sauce.
“The tomatoes are doing well”
didn’t mean much to me.
That was before I learned
that growing is magic,
a magic we can’t control,
a magic that happens deep inside
of a tomato.
You can water them,
hover over them lovingly,
but sometimes they don’t do well.
And sometimes they do.
When they do,
it merits a mention.
“The tomatoes are doing well,”
they wrote laconically.
I thought they were
adding something pointless to fill the page,
but in truth they were holding back their excitement,
keeping themselves from exploding with delight.
warm from the vine,
life still pumping through it,
rinsed and sliced
on white bread:
a miracle from heaven.
“The tomatoes are doing well.”
Ruth, from thereisnosuchthingasagodforsakentown.blogspot.com
I'm putting in a lot of work these days in my metaphorical garden, and some days I feel as though I am seeing very few results. But I'm trying to trust the process; there's some sort of something going on "deep down things," as Hopkins calls it. Maybe by spring there will be some tomatoes.
The amazing Jama, expert on food and children's books, has this week's roundup.