I dedicate this piece to my Grandma Babe, who passed away onto a better place yesterday. I delivered this story today at the liturgical ceremony at the Catholic school where I work.
I grew up on the land my father still farms. No matter how many times I’ve asked him, I have never been able to remember how many acres he tends. No matter how many times I walked in the fields, helping him irrigate or pull weeds, I will never know their secrets like my dad does. He is the keeper of the soil. The blaze of the sun is burned into his skin and the pain in his joints never leaves him. Just like in the parable of the sower, my father has watched some of his crops dwindle under the harsh sun, and he has harvested crops that gave him more produce than he imagined possible. I will never be able to see the field or the crops as my dad does, but I have another field to tend.
Instead of raising corn or hay or sugar beets, I raise young adults. As my father has his whole life, I also get up with the sun and work myself tired over the thing I love doing most. I prepare my lessons as he prepares his farm. At the beginning of each season, or semester, I prep my classroom just as my father preps his fields. They need to be ready to take the seeds so that their roots can grow deep, so their foundation is secure. Just as my father decides what crop to plant in which field and which direction to dig the rows and which irrigation method is best for each crop, I must do the same with my classroom, to do what is best for my students. I must make sure that my desks are arranged in the way that best supports the students’ learning objectives for the day. I must consider the layout of the classroom the students can grow as much as possible each and every day. I work hard to plan the most engaging lessons and activities and materials that will allow students to focus on learning at 8:00 in the morning or after coming from taking a test in science, when the last thing on their mind is learning something new. Some days, our students are like the people in the crowd from the parable: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.” This is not their fault, and it is true of students of every age.
As an ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu said: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” There is so much about our students’ lives that is out of our control. Whether or not they had breakfast, whether or not they read last night, or were read to. The mood they arrive to school in. Even in a community like this, we have students showing up to school who are not always in the best state of mind to be learning new things at each moment of the day. And yet, we do all that we can. We plan for them to experience amazing, eye-opening experiments. We prepare moments of mindfulness and mental challenges and other opportunities for them to make meaning of their learning. We stand at the door each morning, ready to greet them with a smile, a handshake, a high-five or a hug, and we stand before them day in and day out because we are the keepers of the classrooms and
we do what we can for our students. The materials and the seating arrangements and the late nights and the early mornings and the beautiful bulletin boards and all of those things that we work so hard on, day in and day out… we do it all because we love it and because we all know what good comes from it when the students are ready to be learners. We love the challenges–I mean…maybe not always, in every moment, but come on, we must if we’re here! And of course we love it even more, rejoice in it, when those seeds take root and pro
duce a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sewn.
Since the beginning of my life as a teacher–which started in the back porch of the farmhouse where I was raised–playing “school” with my little brother and sister–and until the pain in my joints never leaves me, all I hope for is that I am able to spend my days in my field and that I will always do everything in my control to give my students enough richness and nourishment, enough sunshine and water, that their love for learning grows strong and deep, just like my teachers, my parents, my grandparents… always did for me.
Rest in peace, Grandma.