We are All Merely Gardeners

We are only afforded a small plot of land in this life, but as Candide reminds us, even stubborn pieces of ground can yield a plentiful crop. Gardens are at times beautiful, dressing themselves in the vibrant colors of spring. Flowers bloom, leaning toward the sunlight; crops thrive, nourishing us. But gardens also suffer, languishing through the harsh realities of winter. Gardens are at times somewhere in between—like those that tend them—always trying to find a better way to flourish.

Gardens require constant attention and careful work. The art of gardening takes patience and consistency. A garden must constantly be revisited. Adjustments need to be made. Things must be added or taken away in proper proportion. Cultivation does not happen by chance, but only through the adherence to a precise plan rendered by an astute mind. But the plan needs flexibility, as each coming day will be different than the one before, and the mind needs discipline, because knowing what to do and actually doing it are not the same thing.

Teachers are at best gardeners. Our tools are simple. A clear head and steady hands do most of the work. There is no sitting and philosophizing over great quandaries. There is only rolling up sleeves and getting hands dirty. There is much to toil. Only under the right conditions, will the results yield what is intended. Hopefully, we get at least what is needed.

The life of a gardener is a difficult one, and the best way to do it has been a topic of human discourse since before Socrates and Plato and Aristotle. We have much to learn of our craft and strive to be just a little better tomorrow than we were today. We know that there is always room to improve, but we want to be proud of what we have thus far created.

Gardeners have the amazing gift to do a lot with a little. We are so often at the mercy of our challenging environment. There is never enough money for all the things we need, but we make do. There are always those who think they know our garden better than we do, but we persist. We find other gardeners who think like us and share ideas. We reflect. We build our capacities. We learn from our mistakes. Like the things in our gardens, we grow too.

My  garden is a place for gathering and talking and learning, an everyday place that reveals the human spirit. I’ve heard other people talk disparagingly about weeds in my garden, but I’ve never seen one. I’ve seen plants that have different needs, grow at a different pace, react unexpectedly. But I’ve never seen a weed in my garden. My garden accepts everything as it comes. We must be welcoming of all, to engage in the struggle with the isolation we feel, even when together. Otherwise we risk casting one out to an even greater isolation that exists in the margins. Good plants and bad plants? No. One is no better than another, just different, and they need only a few basic things, but most of all they need to know we will be there, day after day, regardless of the weather, to care for them, to nurture them, to help them grow. So that they might thrive.

We are all merely gardeners. We toil. We sweat. But little by little we can improve our gardens. And it is good to know that this work is not done alone, even when we feel like we work and live in solitude. Our work is the work of life. There can be no higher calling.

10 thoughts on “We are All Merely Gardeners

  1. Scott this is a beautiful post! I have many favorite parts. I love how you say “no weeds” and how you say there is no higher calling. I am so glad you are sharing your voice!
    Alana Stanton

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Scott, wonderful inaugural post. Behind my desk, I keep some mustard seeds, which remind me, as the parable intended, that I never know when or where the seeds I help sow will bloom. Teachers are indeed hopeful and diligent gardeners.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love the gardener metaphor. If teachers are gardeners, I like the idea of thinking of schools as community gardens. Here’s I wrote in regard to that a couple years ago:

    “In the siloed factory form of organization, responsibility tends to function as such: as an English teacher, I am responsible for the student’s education in literature and composition, but her knowledge of polynomials does not matter for my purposes. I call this distributed responsibility. But what if we thought about our organization differently? In place of factories, consider the metaphor of the community garden, which is much more rhizomatic in the way such social spaces promote unpredictable connections and spontaneity as well as a deterritorialized sense of ownership. No one owns that specific tomato, for instance, but everyone is responsible for the garden itself: I call this shared responsibility. What if we could deterritorialize the departmental landscape of the traditional school model? How might that make possible new pathways for mapping our responsibility for the student’s learning and development? Like a community garden, education is about sharing the responsibility of cultivating certain universally-valued skills that all learners need to master; it’s not about Shakespeare vs. polynomials or curricular material vs. irrelevant information. Instead of asking, have they learned Shakespeare?, we need to ask together are students thinking critically? Are they exploring creative solutions? Are they collaborating and connecting with others? Silos, unfortunately, often discourage the latter kind of mindset.”

    Sorry for the long quote, but your metaphor brought me back. We are all gardeners sharing the responsibility of cultivating learning! Thanks for the post.



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