Well, Spring has sprung. Most of us in the States have sprung an hour forward. The azaleas and dogwoods and Japanese magnolias have sprung. The amarylis, coreopsis, roses, stokesia, and dandylions are springing up and trumpeting Spring. Green leaves are springing from bare sticks and peeking out from the cool ground. Noise of blowers and mowers and saws mingle with the songs of the birds and the hums of the bees. So many of us here in South Georgia have been smitten by the gardening urge and bitten by mosquito surge.
It is a time of cleaning, raking, sweeping, planting, transplanting, pruning, pollenating, mending, thinning, mowing, edging, weeding, mulching, and feeding. Following this agrarian drive isn’t just an proverbial bed of roses! It is a noxious time of spritzing with repellents as a defense against the aerial attacks by armadas of mosquitos. It is also a time of gamey sweating, for it is a time of arduous bending, lifting, and hauling. It is a time of smelly liniment, for it is a time aches and pains, It is a time of bandaides and greasy ointments, for it is a time of cuts and bruises. It is a time of ground in grime in clothes and skin, for gardening, contrary to the immaculate images of Martha Stewart, it’s a down and dirty business
I bring this up because a teacher wrote me a woeful message about a “problem student.”
“Having ‘problem students’ is such a grind,” he moaned after he described his predictament. “When they’re in my classes, all I can think of are a bunch of four-letter words. I just wish,” he sighed, “that they wouldn’t….”
Among his lengthy wish list of “wouldn’ts” were: they wouldn’t bother him, wouldn’t be in his class, and he wouldn’t have to deal with them.
Haven’t we all written such a wish list to Sant? Haven’t we all been academic Jiminy Crickets wishing on that star? Sometimes, I have. And yet, I don’t think we really should want those wishful wishes answered. When I look deep, deep, deep into my garden, I can learn so much more about my classes. One lesson is that if we didn’t have a Winter, would the Spring be as pleasant to us? The second lesson is that fate of my garden rests my dedication, imagination, commitment, creativity, and perseverance. A third lesson is that problems are challenges, and challenges are opportunities. They are solvable. It takes some dreaming, some imagination, some loving, and a lot of patience. A fourth lesson is that the aromatas and colors come with a price. They consume time and effort. It requires attention and maintenance day after day after day. Want it easy and cheap? If it is, we won’t appreciate it; we won’t hold it dear; we won’t value it; we won’t take pride in it. Those challenging things we experience for ourselves, in our minds, in our bodies, in our souls, are the things which are truly real and meaningful for us. The more we actually taste the challenge of the “problem student,” the better that taste will become, and the more lasting the taste will be.
After all, teaching is no different than anything else in life. It isn’t a super highway, brightly lit, replete with guiding road signs. It’s more like a treking through a wilderness. I think you’d get more satisfaction after an arduous hike along a difficult mountain trail than after an easy drive on an Interstate in a comfortable luxury car.
And, so it is with those “problem students.” I think they are to our teaching creed what exercises are to our muscles. Sure, they put us to the test. Sure, they make us strain. Sure, they make us sweat. Sure, they tire us. And sure, we can moan and groan and mutter. In the long run, they tighten, toughen up, strengthen, define. And, we’re healthier and hardier for it.
A friend of mine, once sent me a hypothetical want ad for any teaching position. It went something like this:
Personalable, enthusiastic, motivated, inspiring,
dedicated, persevering, loving person needed.
Individual needs to care sincerely about individual
needs of others and have a keen sense of what true
service is. Pay isn’t so great. Benefits are.
Benefits include reaching out and touching others,
making a difference in the lives of others, changing
the world, and altering the future.
We all should use and model four-letter words all the time in class. No, it’s not what you’re thinking. The four-letter words I am talking about are blessings, not curses: “love,” “hope,” “soul,” “open,” “hear,” “give,” “care,” “kind,” “know,” “good.” They are the stirers; they are openers; they stir and open the heart and then they stir and open the mind and finally they stir us up and make us open. They are mindful thoughts and actions of belief, faith, reaching, touching, connecting, greeting, understanding, sympathy, empathy, and transformation. They must be learned and modeled, learned and modeled, learned and modeled again and again and again day after day after day. If these words are in our hearts, if they are in our thoughts, if they are in our feelings, if they are in our vocabulary, if they are in our actions, we can bring about problem-solving miracles.
How we think about a “problem student,” then, is probably more important than that problem student. How we think determines whether we choose to let those problem students grind us down or polish us up.
Make it a good day.