Most of my students arrive to garden class eager and enthusiastic, immediately and persistently requesting specific styles of assignment. “Can I do something with a shovel?” is a really popular one. Or, “Can I use scissors to trim the plants?” And with this heat, “Can I water?” My favorite is, “I’ll do whatever you need me to!”
After most of the class has been entrusted with a specific task, including instructions and needed supplies, there are often one or two remaining students. These aren’t the students that claim to not want to be in garden, those children got assigned to a team that will hopefully help boost their morale and encourage their involvement. No, the students I’m referring to could be categorized as “tentative gardeners.”
The tentative gardener is someone who, with some coaxing, has shown enjoyment from learning about and working in the garden. This classification of student tends to be a bit shy, a bit inward, but not totally against the idea of gardening. These students present a wonderful challenge, because of course I want to sway them over to the “green side.” But sometimes, the real challenge is juggling 10 or so students doing multiple tasks while giving the tentative gardener the one-to-one attention they so need to come out of their shell and participate in garden program.
At times like this, it’s a boon to have a team of interns, volunteers and a teaching assistant at my side. However, I don’t always have these assets to meet all of our needs and that’s when I fall short of my mark. The tentative gardener is quiet; he or she will not make a fuss if not immediately given a task, while all of the other squeaky wheels will steal your attention and keep you absorbed with their needs!
Today was a day that I missed an opportunity to work with one of my tentative gardeners. His 10 or so other classmates held me in their cross-hairs with questions and their need for more direction that I had anticipated with the given assignment. About halfway through class, I looked up and saw the silhouette of my tentative gardener sitting peacefully, yet alone in our gazebo. And while I wanted to give my attention to persuading this child to come outside and spend some time together, that goal seemed impossible. Like a group of hatchlings in a nest, the team of students I was working with needed my attention too.
As I reflect back over my day; what worked, what didn’t, what surprised me, what we accomplished, what do we need to do tomorrow … that image of my student’s profile in silhouette stands out. And while I feel like I missed an opportunity with a student, the flip side is that maybe my tentative gardener needed a little space from the busy constraints of the school day and simply enjoyed sitting wordlessly, taking in the garden in his own way. Either way, next week I get another chance to find a way to engage my tentative gardener.