I have struggled with the question of whether or not to include some of the really difficult situations I am faced with from time to time as a teacher of students with social, emotional, and behavioral issues. Most weeks, my prevalent sense of things is positive, but as is life, not everything is always rainbows and unicorns. I mentioned a few weeks back that my students seemed be suffering from some sort of cabin fever, but obviously, for some, it goes much deeper. A favorite colleague of mine tells me he finds the blog uplifting, and I want it to be. I want this collection of stories to be affirming, to celebrate all that is wonderful within the students of Green Chimneys, but we all have our ups and downs.
Reflecting on this past week in preparation of writing this post, my difficult, yet rewarding experience pruning the gooseberry bushes struck a cord, and I realized that the gooseberries are actually a pretty good metaphor for some of my students. It’s been several seasons since theses fruiting canes have been tamed, and they’re really out of control. Harvesting last year was less than enjoyable as the canes are covered in rather sharp thorns. Since the bushes are so overgrown, it was very difficult to get around them early last summer for optimal harvesting. Children’s (and my) yelps could be heard when trying to gather the tart, grape-like globes for gobbling.
The bushes are actually quite beautiful: the margin of the leaves delicately lobed, a small bell shaped flower that produces an almost translucent fruit. The berry itself, starts out lime green and slowly, if left to ripen, darkens into a warm maroon color. In the fall, the leaves of the bush turn from yellowish red to a deep copper. The prolific bearing of berries sates many children’s bellies and fills many delicious pie crusts.
This bush has so much to offer, just like our students. But sometimes the barbs of the bush are painful. And sometimes, our students, living with past trauma, or dealing with ongoing challenges, are in pain, too. Some students, on occasion, even become a barb, and like the bush. They feel the need to protect themselves, not wanting or not trusting someone to get too close. Emotions they may not even really understand are ebbing and flowing in their minds. During school these emotions can simmer on the surface, or even overflow.
It’s during these moments that “gardening” becomes totally irrelevant, yet the garden (or greenhouse) step to the forefront. During moments of crisis, the environment can either soothe one or increase one’s feelings of anxiety or anger. This is where the wonder of nature, the milieu we surround ourselves with, works so well to bring about peace and calm. Not always, but almost.
Our children, unlike the gooseberry bush, have the ability to evolve. Becoming conscious of their emotional intelligence, and listening to it, is the first step. Learning to verbalize their needs comes next. Identifying and employing coping skills is the ultimate target. Our students’ issues are not going away, but helping students learn how to understand and work with their challenges will make life a bit like a gooseberry pie, sweet with a smattering of tart.