Teaching Amid the Weeds
Have you ever thought of weeds as being beneficial? I haven’t, not until recently. I used to have a house and there was one patch of yard that always seemed to be infested with weeds. Eventually I had new sod laid in that area and it took care of the weed problem. Fast forward a few years and I’m speaking with my mentor and he starts explaining to me that weeds are beneficial, especially in harsh conditions. “Really!?” Was my response. I had never really thought about it, but he said, “In harsh conditions, weeds keep soil from eroding.” He then went on to explain a number of other benefits of weeds.
According to an article in TenthAcreFarm.com there are some weeds that you want in your garden: “Weeds are fast growing, so they can quickly cover bare ground to protect it. Their roots hold soil together and keep it from eroding away in the wind or rain. Their presence can indicate the need for mulch to protect soil, i.e. more mulch can often mean fewer weeds.”
Some Students Are Like Weeds
This got me thinking about how some people are like weeds. Some students are like weeds. I heard a therapist mention to me once how people that aren’t like us are often a “gift”, especially when they stand out or rub us the wrong way. They can create discomfort, challenge us, and try to push us to our limits or crowd us out. When I heard this, my first thought was “This doesn’t sound like a gift, sounds like an annoyance.” But as he further explained I started to see his point. When things are going easy, we can sometimes get stuck in a rut. The lack of challenge allows us to become comfortable. When we are challenged, even when it is just on something we already know, it forces us to look at what we believe and either defend our beliefs, or change our point of view.
So how are some students like weeds? When faced with a challenging student it can be an opportunity to try a new way of teaching, a new way of responding and even how to be patient.
I was in a Peloton class recently and the instructor was pushing us and she said, “Discomfort is where change happens.” Her words resonated with me. It reminded me of one of my favorite TED Talks by Dr. Susan David when she says, “Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.”
Growing Amidst Hardship and Adversity
I can speak for myself when I say that I like things to be comfortable. But growth happens amidst hardship and adversity. According to an article called “Hardship and Leadership: Is there a connection?” on Andrews.edu: “Hardship affects the wealthy and the poor; the young and the old; the corporate CEO and the teacher in a one-room school. ‘The human condition guarantees that each life will encounter natural and largely unpredictable trauma. . . . Leadership, by its very nature, is entwined with adversity” (Stoner & Gilligan, 2002, p.17).'”
So what weeds are springing up in your life and in the lives of your students? I want to circle back to this quote from the Tenth Acre Farm site: “Weeds are fast growing, so they can quickly cover bare ground to protect it. Their roots hold soil together and keep it from eroding away in the wind or rain. Their presence can indicate the need for mulch to protect soil, i.e. more mulch can often mean fewer weeds.” When we see weeds, we know that there is work to do, in our own lives, sometimes in our classrooms, in our homes. To see these things as opportunities instead of problems is a unique way to look at something. In the movie “The Lord of the Rings”, Gollum, who once was a Hobbit, is turned into a detestable creature who has been consumed by his desire for the powerful ring. In the story, Frodo, who is plagued by Gollum, wants to get rid of him. But the wise wizard Gandalf the Gray tells Frodo that sometimes the people in our lives that are thorns in our sides have a greater purpose.
According to Sparknotes: “Gollum serves as a foil to Frodo, his physical presence implicitly emphasizing the younger hobbit’s strength and purity. However, Gollum is not pure evil—that distinction goes to Sauron. Instead, Gollum is pure servility, and this characteristic unites both his good and dark sides and allows him to function as a guide for Frodo. The opposite of servility—strength of character and individual will—become those qualities that a good ring-bearer must have, qualities that Frodo clearly has in abundance.”
Complex things Serve a Greater Purpose
So could it be that the things in our lives that are complex, difficult, challenging… could it be that they serve a greater purpose. Perhaps they are nothing more than a guide to lead us to a better version of ourselves?
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