When you reach the end of this year, will you look back with a sense of satisfaction, knowing you did everything you could and should to pour all that is true and good and beautiful into the hearts and souls of your students? It is a grand and glorious privilege you have been given. As educators we realize the importance of our job (as opposed to the importance of ourselves).
Several years ago, while taking a prospective parent on a tour of the school where I was administrator, she remarked, “It’s like they’re your lowers and this is a garden.” Every farmer desires to grow a healthy garden. Just as the preparation of the ground is necessary for growing healthy plants, preparation is important when we deal with education. As we minister to our students we wish to instill wisdom and virtue. We hope to find the best ways to nourish them so that they may grow into healthy plants and bring fruit.
As teachers we are involved in preparing the soil and softening the ground, making it ready for planting. We carefully water each little heart and mind, tending to each and guiding them as they grow.
The role of the teacher is large enough to be frightening, but there are a couple of things we can do to ensure we have prepared our classrooms for success.
A Prepared Teacher
You have a huge responsibility and tremendous power. You must be ever reading, ever growing, ever taking in—for as we know, you cannot give what you do not have. Your teaching must come from the overflow. Adhere to the words of Quintilian: “We must form our minds by reading deep rather than wide.” In order to prepare the ground for your students, you have to be prepared yourself. Thus will you be equipped to teach your students how to think so that they will know what to do. You should feel excitement at the opportunity to share all that is true and good and beautiful in a world that is often dark and bad and ugly. As Plutarch once said:
As farmers put stakes beside their plants, so the right kind of teacher provides firm support for the young in the shape of lessons and admonitions carefully chosen so as to produce an upright growth of character.
An Ordered Classroom
If we are to have healthy gardens, we must plant them with purpose and order. I want to share some thoughts from Chesterton, which will help us to think about the job of teaching:
A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.
“Order” and “monotony” are often used as derogatory terms in the modern day, but when the young student knows his day is structured in a definite way, he is then free to learn without any insecurities about what is to come next. Children thrive with the expected, the repeated, the unchanged—in other words, they thrive with order.
Imagine a garden run amuck, allowed to grow without any order: plants springing up everywhere, crowded and stifled, so you cannot tell what is a vegetable, an herb, a weed. The lazy farmer is the one who simply rushes to accomplish the task of planting. The soil is not prepared well. The rows are not straight. The seeds are scattered hither and yon.
But, ah! Think of the ordered garden—straight rows, strong roots, and healthy fruit bursting forth. Order and structure are powerful components. They are the string between stakes, to guide us in planting a straight row. Your students are sometimes like wild seeds, blowing about in the wind, but it is your job to care for them, to direct them, to help them to develop strong roots.
A Healthy Garden
A couple of months into the school year, your planting will begin to show signs of healthy growth. A few sprouts will push up out of the soil—the kindergartener will start to read small CVC words, the grammar student will begin to spout Latin, the ninth-grader will construct his first syllogism. There will be an atmosphere of expectancy about the place.
In February, you will look back and remember the early signs of growth and it will seem so long ago. For you, like any gardener, will marvel at the change and new growth you’ve seen in your garden. Plants grow quickly when they are nurtured well. As you draw closer to the end of the year, you should begin to contemplate how your little plants will soon be ready for the next stage of growth, and how best to prepare the soil for them. The preparation of the ground is as crucial to growing healthy plants as is the actual planting, and this preparation is just as important when talking about education.
A healthy garden is a joy to behold. Your classroom is your garden and you are the gardener. May you grow your garden well.