This is a shot taken outside my barrack classroom. My first year here, landscaping crews planted this tree by the field and tethered it to protect the sapling from the wind. Now, you can see the lines have long since been taken down, and the tree is large and sturdy.
When I was in college, I visited my grandparents in Arizona, where they wintered, and they took me to the Biosphere 2.0. It recreates different ecosystems indoors in order to perform research. The researchers added foliage and crops among other environmental elements like humidity and rainfall. They didn’t add strong winds because they thought it would be nice to avoid that condition. But several months later, the trees slumped over; they weren’t growing. Scientists realized, in order to grow, trees used the wind to build strength.
The past couple of years, the increasing pressures of the evaluation system, coupled with various additional mandates, feel like a gale threatening to topple me over, rather than produce the desired effect of making me stronger. But I do feel like I’ve grown at this job, though I wish we could see in ourselves the same growth we so obviously see in trees.
When I first started teaching, I worried about every decision I made. I second-guessed myself and spent far too much time processing each troubling encounter, each activity’s usefulness or drawback, and each success or failure of the day. I still question my decision-making, but I’ve learned to ask myself two questions, especially when facing difficult students:
1) What would I want for my own child?
2) What is best for this child?
Sometimes I can’t make certain things a reality for students, like when a student needs outside counseling/doctors/medicine but can’t afford it. Yet, these two questions keep me steady against the winds of outside influences.
Each day, I stand outside and greet students and see the tree change from autumn colors to bare branches to buds, and then back to green leaves, again. It’s a predictable cycle, like the rotation of students throughout the years, but one that seems just a little different each time.
How do you grow at your work?