Friday, December 13, 2019

Poetry Friday: Reflections on Gardening, Growing, Teaching

I've been grading, and that's always a bit depressing, because I focus on how far short I fell of my teaching goals. This quarter that feeling is multiplied by a billion, as we're wrapping up our distance learning, forced on us by riots and peyi lok (locked country) here in Haiti. (I've been writing about it for weeks and weeks, so you can get more information on the details by scrolling down on my blog.)

In the midst of these thoughts, I read Amy Ludwig VanDerwater's post from last week about planting bulbs in November. Six hundred bulbs, to be precise. Can you even imagine how wonderful that's going to be in the spring? Amy's title was "Choose Good Work, Write About It." That started me thinking about a poem I wrote two years ago comparing teaching to gardening. Here it is.  I talked about how growing is mysterious. We do our part, like Amy, but then there's the magic that takes place out of sight.

As part of the self-evaluation I had my seventh and eighth grade students do at the end of this quarter, I asked them to write about something they had learned during this time that they wouldn't have otherwise. That's due today, so I've only read a few of the responses, but so far I've found they learned about how hard it is to do your work when the external structure is taken away. One said he learned about how to keep his mom from being mad at him: by doing his assignments! One girl simply wrote that she learned to be grateful.

Here's a poem that came out of all this ruminating:

Distance Learning, Fall 2019

This growing season,
it felt as though I took the seeds to the window
and just flung them out,
and the wind blew them away,
or the birds ate them,
or they landed on the road and got trampled.

Did any even hit soil, I wondered,
as, each day, I opened the window
and chucked out another bucketful of seeds?

And so I am happy
to see, here and there,
plants springing up.
I don’t know what they are,
if they came from the seeds in my bucket
or from somewhere else entirely.
I don’t know how they’ll do next week
or next month
or at the harvest.

All I know is that I didn’t hoard the seeds
in brightly colored Tupperware.
I sent them out.
I did.


Liz Steinglass has the roundup today.


Linda Mitchell said...

Here's to not hoarding seeds...or feeling like it's not worth it. It is worth it, of course. We are charged with the planting in good times and in bad. I'm sorry this year has been so incredibly difficult. However, I'm happy each time I check in here to see that you are OK and at least involved in the distance learning.

Sharon said...

"It is better to throw buckets of seeds out the window than to hide them under a bushel" ??

Amy LV said...

Oh, I love this so. We never do know, yet we hope and we work and we fling those seeds. I adore this last stanza, this last line. Hugs. Here's to a good rest and lots of joy after a most busy and meaningful season at school. xxxx

Kimberly Hutmacher said...

Ruth, I'm positive many of your seeds took root. I'm sure that you are a light and comfort to your students in the midst of turmoil and chaos.

Irene Latham said...

Ruth, every time I read your (beautiful gorgeous heartbreaking inspiring) posts about Haiti and how you're handling it, and the students, I think BOOK BOOK BOOK. I wish I was an editor so I could acquire this! Have you thought about organizing into some sort of poetic memoir? Or a verse novel? The world needs this story.... xo

Liz Steinglass said...

I'm spending the morning following Irene from post to post agreeing with her completely, and here again. I think a book by you would be wonderful. This poem is wonderful. I've been following your posts about the riots and no school and this poem is stunningly hopeful while also balancing real challenges and consequences. How powerful to fling those seeds from the window. I need to think about how I might do the same instead of pocketing them and closing the shutters.

Tabatha said...

Your discussion of seeds made me think of this quote:

The work an unknown good man has done is like a vein of water flowing hidden underground, secretly making the ground green.
~Thomas Carlyle

It can be secret even from the water-bearer/seed-sower themselves. xo

jama said...

Wonderful poem, Ruth! The closing lines really say it all. Even in the best of times, when teaching is not done via distance, the seeds that you plant don't necessarily take root, and your results don't blossom till much later. Growing is quiet and mysterious. But yes, flinging the seeds out the window anyway, a sign of hope and faith, is a triumph in itself.

Janice Scully said...

I totally relate to and love your poem. I so admire teachers and I know there must be always times when you feel disappointed, but if you don't try, there will be no success. Plus many successes you will never discover, but they are out there growing.

Linda B said...

From reading your words all these weeks I know this is true: "I sent them out./I did." It is a wonderful post to ponder the 'what if' of many things in our lives. I just heard from a long-ago student this morning who is back in town to go to med school & wants to have lunch. That made my day very nice indeed. I bet your students learned other things than they may have with you right there, though missing the touch & expressions is important, too. You and your students will be so happy to re-unite! I agree with Irene, this could be a book!

Mary Lee said...

This is actually how I feel about my non-distance teaching! And I, too, was feeling discouraged while grading yesterday (really? we've been studying adding and subtracting fractions for a MONTH and only half of you can pass this quiz??). But then I looked back at the unit pre-assessment and found that the class has actually made remarkable progress. And seeing 5th graders using ratio tables to determine the best deal...warmed the cockles of my math-teacher heart! We definitely do more good than we will ever know by flinging our seeds out the window into whatever winds carry them away...

Kay said...

Your poem beautifully captures the heart of teaching and life. What can we do but scatter seeds of hope and kindness and love and truth and then cultivate the plants that sprout (even if they were scattered by someone else).

Karen Edmisten said...

Oh, Ruth, I love this. I clicked through to the gardening metaphor post (and love that Parker Palmer sees himself as a border collie). There's such truth in that, and such truth here, too. I'm convinced that in times when it feels the most futile to fling those seeds, they are most needed. Your love for and commitment to your students is so evident here, as are the results of your dedicated flinging. The boy's epiphany made me smile and the girl's gratitude made me tear up. :)

Tara said...

There is an exuberant hopefulness in your poem, Ruth - I love this.

Michelle Kogan said...

Sending seeds out, what a wonderful metaphor and image to create and let fly, thanks for sharing this hopeful poem in the midst of Haiti's chaos, and for continuing to send your seeds out!