I walked out on the back deck this morning and to my horrors of horrors there were leaves strewn about. The first leaves fallen, physical evidence that slowly but surely the seasons are and will be changing. And with that change I hear all of my teacher friends talk about going into their classrooms with excitement and anticipation at the prospect of a new year. How will they set up their classrooms this year? What kinds of “areas” can be created in this space where they will live with their students over this next year?
This time of year seems to get earlier and earlier every year though. It used to be that none of this was even contemplated until the official “end” of summer, Labor Day. But no more. College students are out shopping everywhere you go. Sons and daughters with Mothers seeking out that perfect comforter and wall hangings to create their own sense of space, the home away from home. My son, a senior, just out the door for his official soccer tryouts. And yet…it is ONLY August 19th! Much too early!
Space matters. I find myself wanting to nest in my own home as I wake each morning with the urge to move furniture around and make things a new. I stop myself though, reminding myself that it IS still summer and that my summer arrangements must stay as long as possible for it is, after all, our shortest season of all.
And this summer I found myself not writing at all. This blog was unintentionally left to have it’s own summer vacation and that gets me thinking about what I need as a writer and one of the major things I need is space. And while that may seem incredibly obvious, with 2 kids in the house it is quite difficult to come by. And while I realize I could create the space and time and get up really early with the birds and get to my keyboard, the truth is that when I am up early I am out tending my gardens. You see there is so little weather here in New Hampshire that is conducive to early mornings outside. My routine is to water my plants and survey each garden to see what has happened over night. And things do happen.
I tried roses this year though. They are tough little buggers and as soon as we got them into the ground they up and died. Not really, but they looked as though they were dead. And so I left them. I pruned them here and there, gave them food and water and just waited. Not until yesterday did I start to see 2 tiny roses on one of the plants. Why now? I wondered? Perhaps they just needed time to adjust to the new soil. Perhaps the food finally kicked in. Perhaps they got just the right amount of sunshine and water for a few days in a row. Who knows! Maybe all they needed was a bit of space.
How often do we hold these spaces for our students? Our teachers? Spaces where they can be who they are, take the time that they need and figure out how to write or grow or bloom on their own? We talked a lot about this “holding of space” in my summer course (last entry!) on Passion, Purpose and Play: Creating Real Readers and Writers. EVERY day during our 2 weeks together these students, made up of teachers and interns had the time and space they needed to do their work. We devoted the last chunk of our day to “workshop”. Time where students could choose what it was they wanted to work on and how. They could choose to read or write anything they wanted. It might be reading for the next day in class, a novel or magazine they were interested in, or the writing they were working on. They could go to the library, go outside to read and write. They could confer in their triads, in partners or with me. They could write in notebooks, on their laptops or even on the floor if they so chose! They could choose to use this time to express themselves artistically with watercolors and other art supplies provided.
I loved this time every day as it gave me time to sit with individuals and confer on their processes on what was working and what was not. IF the work, the homework, is so important, then why don’t we ever provide the time and space for that work to begin to happen in class? It seems so obvious and yet on my evaluations there was a resounding appreciation for that time given. Respect. That is what happened. There was a great respect for the work when there was a place for that work to happen. Many left each afternoon with clearly defined goals on where they wanted to take their reading and writing that night.
And while the cliché of students blooming has been used ad naseum, I am going to bring this back around to those damned roses. The ones that refused to just blossom. The ones, that given the time and space eventually did bloom! Next to it though, is the other rose. You know the one. The one that no matter what you do, it just stays the same. No buds, no roses, no sign of color. The scrawny little plant next to the blooming phlox that are going to bloom and shine no matter what I do or don’t do. But it is there….and nothing I did changed that plant for the better. In fact it looks much worse than when we brought it home. When first planted it it had gorgeous pale yellow and pink roses and now it simply stands alone, no flowers, no color. Lifeless. And yet it is not. And so I will wait and be patient and hope and try some new things and hope and wait that perhaps one day…maybe even next summer that it will again yield a beautiful bloom or two, but you just never know.
And that is the imprecision of teaching and learning in a nutshell. We can do all we can and still there may be those roses that will never bloom, at least not while you are around. And that is ok. Maybe it is not their time. Maybe what is happening on the inside is more important than the product. It is not always what we “see” that matters in the long haul.
And so we begin a new year…and I do so love the feeling of new beginnings. It is what makes me a true New Englander. As much as I hate the seasons I need the seasons. So little leaves on the back deck, I welcome you, but not entirely as I sweep you off and honor the space of summer as long as I can!
Tomasen you’ve hit so many important and personal points for me. I long for personal space, where I can close a door and be totally alone. Perhaps I would do more writing, more thinking, more reading. Finding my own private, personal space is a challenge that I’m working on.
Time. That’s also so interesting and also important. For years I taught kindergarten. Then, after my first visit to Reggio Emila, I decided to loop to first grade with my class. The first time that I did this I was so nervous about getting my children to reach first grade benchmarks. (pre-CCLS!). Mid-year, about January, I was particularly panicked about three of the children in the class. They weren’t reading! I asked my friend Connie, who was a long-time first grade teacher, to read with them and then give me some help. She did that and she said that they were fine. She said that I should wait until March or April. They just needed more time. She advised me to keep doing what I had been doing and that everything would be ok. I was skeptical but really respected her professional opinion, so…well, I tried to stop worrying. (Like Leo’s mother in Leo the Late Bloomer.) Well, lo and behold, in March the three of them started reading! It was like magic. Time!
It’s another two minds thinking alike moment! Your roses weren’t ready to bloom yet, that’s all! The problem is that we’re so anxious that we don’t always give them the time & space they need–and, of course, I’m talking about students as well as roses.
Your post also reminded me about an institute I did this summer in Colorado with Dorothy. For the last day, we put the teachers in book clubs and Dorothy and I decided to just listen, not actually to participate, except to try to record the conversations in our notebooks. When the time was over I was curious to know how it felt to not have us offer any input, and they all said it felt like an act of trust–that we trusted them enough to do the thinking themselves and we honored their thinking by recording it. It was such a powerful moment, with so many implications, as we have to trust ourselves as well when we don’t see any visible changes in the roses & students we tend to (whether they’re children or adults).
Time….it really is what kids need. In this day of Common Core, Reach to the Top, and who knows what clever title will come along, we rush kids too much and put up one benchmark for all. I miss being able to give kids time to bloom. Maybe I will try to sneak in some of the “blooming time” this year. And no…my classroom is not ready! yikes!
My dear friend Tomasen, It is a real joy to read your writing and this morning a special treat that you tide your garden and learning together. My Aunt is an amazing gardener and has always said some plants first sleep, then they creep, and finally leap! It seems this is true will some learners. Some need more time to perk, stew and muck with the learning before they blossom.
SO good to hear from you!!
And not long after this the other roses actually bloomed as well.
Love seeing your adventures on FB.
Miss our walks on the Marginal Way!
Let me know if you are ever in the area.
You know you have a place to stay here!!
Are you going to NCTE?