Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Teaching and Gardening Part 3

Maybe I should have titled this post: Weeds vs. Flowers in Our Classrooms. I have really enjoyed looking at my hobby of gardening to see how it relates to teaching. I’m constantly amazed how much I learn from gardening that can be applied to the classroom. While thinking about this topic, I found the following quotes that I thought you would enjoy.

What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.- Ralph Waldo Emerson, Fortune of the Republic, 1878

Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them- A. A. Milne, Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh

A weed is no more than a flower in disguise.- James Russell Lowell, The Growth of a Legend, 1847

A weed is but an unloved flower.- Ella Wilcox, 1855 – 1919

One time I went to the plant nursery to buy this plant called Lantana, which is supposed to be hardy in the heat and drought. I was thrilled to plant this because I loved the bright colors of the plant and how easy it was to care for it. When my parents found out that I paid about $8 for this plant (My father is an avid gardener so I love to share things like this with them), they really laughed. You see, in Florida where they live, this plant is a weed and grows along the sides of the road. People constantly try to get rid of it from their yards. My father said he could get me all that I want, and for free!

I wondered how many students are considered weeds. Maybe no one has seen their virtues or gotten to know them. Is the student who misbehaves a weed or a flower? Maybe no one has made an effort to find out this student’s virtues. I once read somewhere that you can find at least one good thing about a person and when you do, it will make it harder for you to dislike them. Maybe if I can find that one good thing, that student will change from a weed to a flower.

I taught at one school where we had some flexibility in scheduling. (I didn’t understand the whys or how, but I just know it affected the classes that I taught.) I was a special education teacher so as long as I taught special education for at least half the day; I was allowed to teach anything else the principal wanted me to teach. This meant I was assigned 2 more classes of remedial math which involved teaching regular education students who had failed standardized tests that could affect their graduation from high school. The regular math teachers were thrilled that I would be teaching these classes because none of them wanted to teach the lower level students and felt their destiny was to only teach higher level math courses. They felt that teaching these lower level students was a waste of their time and usually involved major behavior problems. (I guess you could say, these lower level students were considered weeds.)

Now, I on the other hand, was ecstatic about the chance to teach these lower level students. I had only taught special education students up to this point and I felt like I was teaching gifted and talented students. Please don’t think I didn’t still love teaching special education students, but this was a whole different world to me. I really feel that many of these students lacked the basic math foundations in order to build new skills so I started from the bottom and worked my way up. I pre- and post-tested students so they could work on their own individual skills. Everyone had their own plan that I worked up for them and they worked their hearts out for me. Usually the students were too busy to misbehave so behavior issues were not a problem in the class. I was so proud of the students who retook the exit exam at the end of the year and passed the math portion of the test. You see, I saw these students as flowers, not weeds, and cultivated their garden so that they could grow and learn the skills they needed in order to be successful.

Our attitude towards plants is a singularly narrow one. If we see any immediate utility in a plant we foster it. If for any reason we find its presence undesirable or merely a matter of indifference, we may condemn it to destruction forthwith.- Rachel Carson

I have learned a lot about wildflowers while I have gone hiking. There is this beautiful flower that can be either reddish orange or yellow called Jewelweed. I love to find this because they are so pretty. After some research and talking to park rangers, I have found out that this flower supposedly is used to fight poison ivy rashes and usually grow near where poison ivy is found. Yet, my husband tells me that this plant used to grow in his parent’s backyard and they spent years trying to get rid of it from the yard. Every year they would pull them out of the ground only to find them coming back the next year. His parents obviously found no use for this plant and felt it was a weed. I think this plant is handy to have around and that it is a very useful flower so if I ever have it in my yard, I wouldn’t try to get rid of it.

Maybe I need to look at my students who I feel are weeds and try to find out how useful they could be. Maybe they haven’t discovered their usefulness yet and I am the instrument of their discovery. Instead of trying to find out ways to eradicate them from my classroom, I need to find a way to cultivate these students. I need to help them to grow and be productive. How amazing it would be to find out that these students were not weeds and actually rare and valuable plants. If I could do this, my class would be a successful garden!


Mrs. Johnson said...

Thank you for sharing this! It is a wonderful post. It is essential to start thinking about these things before the year starts because I think that is when we need to decide how to view and what to do with all students that come our way. I have been thinking about it a little but now I am going to focus more on it!

loonyhiker said...

ms. mize: it's hard at the beginning of the year when you are so overwhelmed with everything. Have a good beginning of the year.