I am a teacher. I love teaching! I’m also a gardener. I love gardening! A few years ago, I retired from full-time teaching of art. Today, I find myself continuing to apply many of the skills I learned on the job to my garden. Guiding a student or nurturing a plant—how are the jobs similar?
Be prepared. Just as my classroom instruction must be organized and prepared, so must my garden. Before planting anything, I consider both the plant and the environment. Will there be enough space? Enough sunlight? Do I need to enrich the soil and provide a water source?
Get attention. To learn, students must be quiet, focused, ready to listen, and follow instructions. Seeds and plants must also be ready to take advantage of their environment. Some seeds benefit from overnight soaking or scarification. To thrive, seeds should be planted at appropriate depths and distances from each other. Seedlings may need hardening-off before planting. And newly selected garden plants should be healthy and pest-free.
Consider the long-term objective. Just as there’s an overall goal for a unit being taught, there’s also the big-picture goal of a healthy and productive garden. This involves replants as necessary, ongoing weeding, and multiple actions for pest management.
Set intermediate goals. There’s always a goal for the day. In the classroom, it’s that doable amount of work when we take small steps forward toward larger accomplishments. In the garden, in much the same way, we’re either planning, planting, weeding, watering, thinning, replanting, fertilizing, managing pests, or harvesting—but not all on the same day. It’s one challenging and rewarding step at a time.
Allow time for work. In art class, we call this studio time—the hands-on time of physically working on a project. For both artists and gardeners, this creative, physical involvement with the elements is like play. We become so involved that we lose track of time and don’t want to stop. In class, students receive words of encouragement from each other and from the teacher. In the garden, the gardener is rewarded with flowers, produce, color, butterflies, and fresh air.
Choose a stopping point. It’s necessary. We frequently cannot finish an assigned task, but that task will be waiting for us to tackle again tomorrow.
Conclude. This is important. Following our final cleanup, we refocus on our goals for the day and acknowledge our successes. We think about how far we’ve come and what we plan to do next. We take an important moment to look at the garden—those growing, budding, flowering, producing plants. There’s a feeling of challenge mixed with satisfying accomplishment. It’s when we pat ourselves on the back and smile.
Evaluate. Will we try a different method next time because what we did today didn’t work as well as we had hoped? Is there more research to do? Do we simply need more time and practice? Are we enjoying the process? Evaluation is that final moment to pause, look, and enjoy.
I have learned as a teacher and as a gardener that it’s wise to be prepared for surprises and detours along the way, that optimism is essential, and that it helps to have a sense of humor. I have found, academically and horticulturally, that there’s always more to learn. Both on the job and in the garden, we expect the best, enjoy the growth, and anticipate bounty. Perhaps most importantly in both arenas, we love the process and see the world as a better place for our efforts.
Article written by Mary Alice Ramsey, Extension Master GardenerSM Volunteer.