Before I get bombarded by comments from frustrated teachers who already feel like they are “treated like dirt”, I ask you to read on. I, too, am one of you. And before the comments start flying from non-educators or administrators to ask me to stop whining, I kindly ask you to read on as well.
I’m not a farmer. I don’t even like to get dirty, but I’ve realized over the past ten years the importance of dirt. I’ve had the privilege to go to church in rural Indiana and watched farmers do life…and they do it well. They work like crazy and it was just recently that I’ve recognized a deep connection between the roots of farming and teaching.
With my limited knowledge of farming, I knew some research would be required. (And I still by no means consider myself an expert.) I read an article by John Crisp entitled, “Take care of the dirt, the soil takes care of you” and gained valuable understanding into the importance of healthy dirt.
I also posed the following question to various farmers in my community: “What is more important, taking care of your crop once it is growing or taking care of the soil before the seeds are planted?” Each response brought new insight to my connection of farming and teaching. Each farmer strongly agreed that both are important, but with what I’ve learned and experienced, we have some lessons to glean from the farmers in their field to improve the field of education.
Teachers are dirt. Students are seeds. Every year a new crop of seeds is planted in this dirt. Every year the soil is expected to foster tremendous growth. My only concern is that in recent years we are solely concerned about doing what’s best for the seeds with little regard to the state of the soil. At some point as a farmer commented, “You have to fertilize the soil, that way it has enough nutrients for the plant to grow.” Or another responded. “You have to take care of the soil or nothing grows good.”
Fertilize the soil…invest in teachers. I’m not talking professional development, changes in curriculum, or the newest teaching strategies. Those are just like the current farming practices of heavy pesticides or fossil fuel-based fertilizers, which Crisp says, “isn’t sustainable.” In the farming community people are turning back around and looking to “soil health.” They use methods like cover crops, no-till, or crop rotation which are tried and true methods that farmers have known for decades. They know how to take care of their dirt.
I think the education community needs to turn back around from our pursuit of constant progress in striving for the next best thing and take a look at “teacher health.” I’m not talking anything ground breaking here. I’m talking basic, time tested methods of Communication…Honesty…Compassion… Integrity...Respect. All the things we are expected to give our students.
Teachers are dirt; therefore, teachers are fragile. In Crisp’s article he explains how “even though it’s made of rock, soil is fragile.” Rocks break down after years and years to form dirt. The following conditions increase the soil’s fragility: drought, storms, and bad tilling practices. The same in teaching. Drought-year after year of tough classes with no encouragement, support, or consistency. Storms-that one kid who can cause a pop up thunderstorm at any moment. Not to mention the fact that things may be going on in our personal lives that can hit hard and unexpected. Bad tilling practices-constant demands and pressures from the federal, state, and local levels without time to breathe or recoup before the next year and new initiative starts. One farmer also stated that, “It takes 3-4 years for the ground to heal once you’ve compacted it.” A teacher is lucky if that is all the time it takes for them to heal.
With that being stated, it’s no wonder that just like dirt, teachers wear out. Even though we may walk around with shirts touting, “I Teach: What’s Your Superpower?”, we are anything but invincible. Some days are hard enough in themselves, but working year after year can wear on even the most veteran teacher. And again, teachers wear out just like soil, as Crisp wrote in his article “Soil wears out, as well. In fact, the story of civilization is largely informed by soil depletion. Historically, whenever new land was readily available, farmers found it easier and cheaper to leave exhausted fields behind rather than use agricultural techniques that preserve the growing capacity of the land.”
There are so many veteran teachers with still so much to offer, but I’ve seen that its easier and cheaper to just leave the exhausted teachers behind rather than use common sense techniques to preserve the growing capacity of their classroom. They are forgotten, unappreciated, and disrespected while the next “yes, man” young teacher is being escorted into their classroom on a red carpet.
Every farmer loves a productive crop, but none of that is possible without fertile healthy soil. Every administrator loves high scores, accolades, and student growth, but none of that is possible without encouraged healthy teachers. My hope is that some day, everyone will realize that doing what’s best for students starts with doing what's best for teachers. Don’t put the cart before the horse. Don’t count your eggs before they hatch. Don’t plant your seeds before you nourish the soil. Devote some time and energy to the dirt. I’m willing to get dirty. Are you?
Crisp, John M. “Take care of the dirt, the soil takes care of you.” Wichita Falls, Wichita, 16 May 2017, www.timesrecordnews.com/story/opinion/2017/05/16/take-care-dirt-soil-takes-care-you/101714790/.
Photo Credit: Gariel Jimenez from unsplash.com