This week I start another year in the classroom at a new school. As I reflect back and look forward I keep landing on this story I wrote my first year of teaching. I’ve shared it before, but August is always a great time to remember why I choose to do what I do.
In the throngs of my first year, I wrote this to encourage myself. I hope it encourages you. Teachers, mothers, fathers, mentors, aides, paraprofessionals, and all who work with children, know that your time and effort shapes a life. You may be the only person who believes in that child. You may be one of the few fighting for them. You may be the 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, redirect one more outburst or handle anymore; remember why you do what you do. Chip away at those little clumps of dirt to someday reveal what lies beneath. You are seen and your work matters.
The Young Gardner
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 unique 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, these blobs 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 a bit more effort to find what hid 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 treasures hidden in 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 vibrant colors of the varied blooms 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 begin to 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 they do not believe in themselves. 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 and treat each child knowing they are destined for greatness. Respect each child as the unique and precious treasure they are