On the Importance of Watering the Grass

Sometimes life has a way of getting you down, and sometimes it creeps up on you so you don’t even notice it until it’s almost too late to pull out. Like this summer, when you were distracted by some hard stuff, and let a lot of things go. Your house kind of built itself into a disaster area, for one thing, mainly because you didn’t catch it in time. It wasn’t any wildly fun parties that did it. It was actually a lack of same, probably. You came and went, and came and went, and well, you let the grass die. You realize you can actually tell people how to find your house by describing the grass. “It’s the house with the dead lawn,” you could say. If anyone wanted to find it, that is, which no one seems to want to do, and you’re sort of relieved that they don’t because the inside is pretty much a reflection of the outside. And then, before you manage to do a thing about it, everything changes.

School starts. You spend some time getting your classroom ready and it looks pretty good. You’ve brought in a few plants, and moved a couple of bookcases around. Then you learn that you’ll be having more than 40 students in there, if they all show up. That’s a little thrilling for some sick reason. You know in an abstract way that you won’t really get any teaching done with that many students, but maybe you’re just a little excited by having something to talk about. Something noticeably hard to define the otherwise hard time you’re having that you can’t really talk about. Whatever, you rearrange your room to create seating for 42 kids, with some additional chairs available as needed.

On the first day, contrary to what the powers that be expect, the students all show up and then some. They continue to show up every day after that. For some reason, the district drags their feet, wanting to make sure the numbers will hold before they add a teacher. You don’t know why they haven’t noticed that once the students arrive, they don’t go away. Nevertheless, it takes two full weeks before this situation is remedied. Two full weeks of chaos. After twenty years you totally get that having students sitting around big tables is an open invitation to talk and play, but you have no other option, so for a couple of weeks a good time is had by all. All of them, that is. You arrive home dead tired every day. By the first Friday you can’t even make it through the staff meeting. You’re asleep with your eyes open for that event.

Finally, by the end of the second week, you learn that relief is on the horizon. They’ll be thinning out on Monday, so you decide to change the look of your classroom. You move the furniture again, add a couple of soft lamps, put new bulletin boards in place. You change it so they will know that things are going to be different from now on.

When they come to class on Monday, you have them point out to you all the things you’ve changed. You explain that things need to be different now, that you’re all starting over again. The first day, it’s pretty calm. Everyone is basking in the light of that new lamp you brought in. But by Tuesday, it threatens to become just like the crowded weeks. You feel yourself leaning toward giving in to it because it takes so much energy to change it.

Then suddenly, in a moment of clarity, you realize “this is my school year, too. I need a good year as much as they do,” and you step up. You politely but firmly sit kids back down. You begin to make the phone calls home that you kind of dread making. The calls that make so much difference to all the students, not only those whose parents you actually talk to. And you realize that this period of time, these eight weeks between Labor Day and Veteran’s Day, these weeks that seem interminable when they are happening, are your boot camp. This is the time you must hold yourself and your students to your highest expectations, to teach them what is expected and to make sure you remember to expect it. It’s those daily nudges, even when you don’t have the heart for it, that will determine what kind of school year you, and they, will experience this year. And you get up and go put a sprinkler on the lawn, because it’s the least you can do.


9 thoughts on “On the Importance of Watering the Grass

  1. Ruth says:

    I do love your writing Lynn -always something to think about, as well as the lingering ideas that resonate and make me want to write too. Thanks. Hope your lawn beta netters. If I lived closer I’d come visit no matter what your yard looks like.

  2. lynnjake says:

    Thanks, Ruth. I haven’t been writing much lately. This took a lot of revision, but it felt good to be writing again. And I would welcome you with open arms if you lived closer, even if my yard was dead!

  3. bonnie K says:

    Ditto! I love it as we process the experience with you that you get to what matters to you as a person and educator: this is your school year too and there’s that window of opportunity to create your classroom community with kids and support back home.

    I hope you had a great year, my friend. I great year for YOU and then it will be great for THEM!

  4. lynnjake says:

    Thanks, Bonnie. I thought it sounded a little self-serving to say that, but it’s true. If I”m having a bad school year, so are they. We’re all in this together!

  5. dkzody says:

    Glad you are making your classroom better for you. The lawn will bounce back; the kids, maybe not if you don’t take immediate action while the year is fresh. You are right about those first 8 weeks being boot camp. Be tough, don’t give in, and the second semester will be easier. I was fortunate that all that hard work I put into the first year was repaid to me when they came back to me as seniors. Would it be possible to have the 7th graders, whom you’ve trained, back for 8th grade? They really are more lovely the second time around.

  6. lynnjake says:

    You are so right, Delaine. This period is so critical. When I taught high school I had kids for two or three years sometimes, so strong relationships were built. Middle school is so fleeting, that doesn’t happen much. The only ones I have a second time are the kids who are in 8th grade AVID. For the most part it is delightful to have them a second time.

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