Reflection: Teaching and Lessons from the Garden

Yesterday, at the end of a full day of ‘teaching’ lessons remotely, I needed a break. I was tired, I was irritable, and my head was aching and I couldn’t touch it with painkillers. I had to get out.

Fortunately – and although I think I knew it was a ‘nice to have’ when we moved in, I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated it so much – we have a garden at home, that I could escape in to.

I am very much what you’d call an amateur gardener: I never really knew much about plants growing up, and while my parents have taken a turn for the horticultural a little bit later in life, growing roses when their two boys have moved out, it wasn’t on the radar of my youth. Over the few years we’ve lived here, the garden has become a bit of a project, and the more I’ve pottered, the more I’ve learned and reflected. Now, comfortably middle-aged and middle-class, we settle down to watch Monty Don & friends in Gardeners’ World each week, and revel in the pretty flowers and colours that decorate our lives.

But there’s two things that I think are huge. And they struck me hard, as I gently watered my very first seedlings, and coo’ed over my first ever lupins.

First, it’s about hope. To plant a garden, allegedly says Audrey Hepburn, is to believe in tomorrow. So much of what we do in gardening, like education, is about what will come, and what will be. We may not see it for ourselves – we redesign curricula which will benefit a Year 13 student in five years, when we have left and moved schools. We teach the students things that we know they won’t make sense of, fully as lived-experiences, until much later. But we do them, because we hope.

To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow

Audrey Hepburn, allegedly

Second, it’s about trust. As a new gardener, and as a first-time grower from seed, and nervous with a pair of pruning shears, we haven’t had the confidence to really cut back hard. Our plants look okay, I think, and I don’t need to do that… but it deprives them of a valuable opportunity for new growth, for development, to reset and refresh and restart over winter. It’s better for them – and I need to have a huge amount of trust in my judgements, and that they will come back, come good, and do what I know they will be capable of.

You can’t garden without faith in the incredible capabilities of something very tiny – a seed, a pot of bulbs, buried deep, a cutting, a newly-shorn rose bush – lopped down to a few inches, from the beautiful shrub that it was just a summer ago.

… faith in the incredible capabilities of something very tiny …

And I think the same is true of education. We have to have trust. In us, as professionals – that we’ll do what’s right, what’s necessary, and what’s hard – because we know what needs to be done.

In our students; the same. That they, ultimately, will come good, and blossom again for a moment of glory in the summer.

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