With the month of September almost over and school in full swing, teachers find themselves feeling the struggle. I teach elementary school, and I love it. But that doesn’t mean I don’t struggle. Most days knowing that my coffee maker lives at school and not in my apartment gets me to work on time. Not just because our start time got moved to 7:20 in the morning, but because teaching demands so much of your life. On top of the demands of the profession I chose, I choose to teach in a high poverty urban school. Teaching commands so much of my time, focus, and effort. It can drain me and so many others emotionally and physically. But we cannot not lose heart.
In the throngs of my first year, I wrote a story to encourage myself. Tonight, I share this story with you in hopes that you will glean just a bit of encouragement. So teachers, mothers, fathers, mentors, aides, paraprofessionals, and all who work with little people, know that your time and effort shapes a life. You may be the only person who believes in that child. You may be the only one fighting for them. You may be the only one who sees who they can become. On the days when you think you cannot do it anymore, when you can’t tie one more shoe, fill out one more piece of paperwork or handle anymore; remember why you do what you do. Chip away at those little clumps of dirt and someday reveal what lies beneath. You are seen and your work matters.
Hope you enjoy this little anecdote.
There was once a young gardener who could not wait to get her own garden. She spent four years learning about the different types of seeds and how to grow them all to their potential. The anticipation of waiting for her garden only grew her excitement. When the time came, she excitedly walked to her garden. Her heart fell. Thick weeds overran the plot. The dilapidated area looked beyond repair. Her garden was the one no one else wanted. The straight rows and sprouting plants in the other gardens disheartened the young gardener.
The master gardener handed the new young gardener 19 clumps of dirt. “Good luck growing anything from this,” he said as he walked away. Determined, the young gardener began to study and learn her clumps of dirt. She knew buried in these clumps of dirt was something beautiful. To her, the clumps of dirt were something more. They had to be. The young gardener spent time with her clumps of dirt. She delicately chipped away at the layers of muck covering them as she worked to clean them off.
On some of the clumps, the dirt fell off easily revealing seeds of many varieties. The young gardener planted each of them taking care to tend to them regularly. The dirt on others, caked so deep, took more effort to find what was inside. “Those are just clumps of dirt. That is all they will ever be,” scoffed one elder. “You are wasting your time,” arrogantly chimed in another. The young gardener held all of the clumps in her hand and thought, “What if they are right? What if these are just dirt?” She sighed, her confidence shaken.
But as she cradled the clumps piled in her hands, she couldn’t help but know each of them was special. Choosing to forge forward, the young gardener continued to unearth the clumps of dirt. She found seeds for mighty trees, beautiful flowers, and rare stones. The elders called her silly things. They told her she was wasting her time. But she could not stop working to discover what was inside each clump.
Over time, the young gardener continued to tend to her precious little plants and clumps of dirt. She worked herself harder than she ever had before to discover something new about each of her little clumps.
By the next spring, the tired overgrown garden entrusted to the young gardener, blossomed into a rare and beautiful garden others went out of their way to see. Some of the seeds she found grew fast, others took more time. But there in the once neglected garden grew carefully pruned blossoms. The blossoms vibrant colors painted the plot as tall sturdy trees towered overhead. A path paved with precious stones led visitors through the now inviting plot. Each unearthed clump of dirt now had a special place and a purpose.
The young gardener sat under a tree watching the beautiful dance of blossoms, waving grass, and new sprouting buds that enticed the visitors. The young gardener marveled that a once overgrown and discarded plot became such a marvelous destination. She wondered how many gardeners before her threw clumps of dirt to the wayside. As she sat contemplating, a new young gardener holding clumps of dirt stood across the way. In his hands he held his precious clumps of dirt. The young gardener walked over to his newly inherited and neglected garden. Together they began to clear his plot. She knew from those clumps of dirt no one wanted, another garden would blossom.
To those who work in schools or with children, we cannot control who walks into our classrooms and hallways, but we can control what we do. I encourage you even in the midst of paperwork, IEPs, BIPs, PLCs, running records, overcrowded classrooms, and all of the many other things that fill our time, do not lose heart. Do not quit fighting. Fight for your students. Believe in them when no one else does. When it gets hard and you want to quit, love them well. You do not know who they will become, but believe they are destined for greatness. You may be the only one who does.