The link between the gardener and the teacher has fascinated me over the years.
At Yewfield in the Lake District of the UK, while walking around the garden, I learnt how weeds are dominant and take over a patch and how you just cannot take all the weeds out. So you control their spread, while keeping them there to do their bit. Weeds are an important part of the ecosystem. The teacher in me heard this example and it fitted in with ‘a bully’ in a class. You can’t just get rid of them, but you bring order into the system by other interventions. And when I watch a gardener who with all attention and love wipes the underside of leaves, makes the right combination of soil to put into her pots, where some plant will blossom, the teacher in me again resonates with that feeling of care and concern.
There is no one single or right way to nurture the environment for the growth of the child. Nurturing, by its very nature is a dynamic and creative process. Like each plant, each child is fragile, but with the strength to take on the world. Our committed love, attention and care can facilitate this process.
A builder makes a building out of what he has imagined and it comes to completion, whereas a gardener stays committed to the plants in all the seasons and is part of its life cycle. So it is with a teacher—one grows and evolves with the children.
The gardener cannot control the growth of plant. His or her only commitment is to nurture the seed, pause and observe. One cannot make a plant grow, the plant grows by itself. All one can do is to provide the conditions for growth. One doesn’t blame the plant for not growing, for not blossoming or for wilting. One can only intervene in the environment and facilitate the growth of the plant. And this is yet another important fact when one is with children. One cannot mould them, make them into this or that. If you try to do that you destroy them.
Not all seeds grow the same way, not all blossom at the same time. Some grow with a wild urgency and some, so quietly. Not moulding the children, not grafting them to yield in particular ways, opens up a world of discoveries, where there is freedom to watch and learn as they grow with the gardener. There are seasons of plenty, and seasons where, to an onlooker, there seems no movement
Like a gardener the teacher must take good care of herself, not be out in the blazing sun just because one has an idea of hard work. The moments one takes to pause and to look at the colours, smell the flowers, all lend themselves to action in nurturing the environment. To take a moment to pause is to take in the joy of their blossoming.
Working in the junior school is like being in a plant nursery. You have all these tiny seeds with all the potential in the world embedded them. To discover the right soil for each seed, the right amount of sunlight and water, and then watch them grow is the challenge I face every day.
In the junior school space where I teach, there is a sand pit, trees, lots of art material, some equipment for exploring like magnifying glasses and magnets, toys and games, as well as books and random material like cloth, cardboard, pipes and ladders. All this is in the environment and depending on the interests we see in a child we bring out more appropriate resources.
Now the children—the seeds—are free to learn. One watches them and has a feeling of watching bees that are buzzing with a passion to live each day fully! Making houses, setting up shops, planning weddings, cooking, painting, collecting iron filings, reading, constructing, doing crochet, creating puppet shows, and much more. The children find many possibilities and are involved with their hearts through the day.
So what is our role?
We are the facilitators in the space. Not only with the activities the children are engaged in, but more in helping them relate with each other and the space. Teasing, talking rudely, comparing, and excluding, these are habits that they often find themselves caught in, and to help them pause and acknowledge these movements seems to be our primary role. Together finding confidence, trust and comfort with each other, being on one’s learning journey without conforming to received ideas and habits, is the essence of our relationship. Through these interactions the children discover a ground that is secure and alive.