Learning through teaching

Last week I was putting together a spreadsheet to summarize what lessons I’ve done, what grades I’ve taught and how many students I’ve worked with over the past 2 years.  It wasn’t the most exciting task, looking through my old teacher sign-up sheets and e-mails and entering the data into a spreadsheet.  But it actually turned out to be pretty satisfying and rewarding.

Searching through my e-mails for communication with teachers, I stumbled upon some e-mails back and forth with a couple of friends.  One of them is a friend I met at the Guelph Organic Conference in January 2010.  We had both finished our Master’s degrees relatively recently and while we both had ideas/dreams of what we wanted to do next, we were both a bit lost about how to get there.  It was nice to read the e-mails we wrote back and forth that spring and summer while we were just starting up new projects/jobs, where we were really excited to be doing something we were passionate about, yet feeling like we were somewhat in over our heads.  (I was just starting at the Withrow garden – my first experience gardening with kids – while Ryan was starting up some amazing projects in London, Ontario, like Car Free Day and Grickle Grass Festival).  Another friend whose e-mails I stumbled upon is a friend I got to know while we were both interns on farms that were part of the C.R.A.F.T. Ontario network during the 2009 farming season (where we discovered we’d both studied in Guelph and have a mutual friend in Norway).  Scott has a way with writing really encouraging and heartfelt messages.  In moments of discouragement or frustration, I often remember an e-mail he sent where a) he was super excited about my school garden work, and b) he described approaching gardening with kids as a “window into” so many different subject areas, and the importance of hands-on learning.  He has since started experimenting with market gardening, as well as pursuing his musical passions in a variety of forms.  (I hope I can soon post a link to his music as well.)

It was nice to reread these encouraging and excited messages we’d written to each other.  But the biggest satisfaction came from seeing how far we’ve all come and how much we’ve accomplished over the past 2 years.  While it’s important to look towards what’s coming next and to keep improving, it’s also important sometimes to reflect on how we’ve gotten to where we are.

Looking at the lessons I was offering to classes two years ago showed one of the biggest changes I could see. Two years ago, I had about 7 or 8 lessons that I was offering all together; now I offer about that many workshops for each grade, and I’ve worked a lot on making direct curriculum links in my lessons.  I was also realizing how much more organized I’ve gotten with my sign-ups, keeping notes in my garden journal, keeping track of what seeds I’ve got and when to plant them, keeping track of all of the lessons I’ve done, etc.  This blog has helped too, by reminding me to keep track of what I’m doing on a daily basis in the gardens so that I can share it with you.  Reflecting on the past 2 years has made me realize that I’m significantly less stressed this spring than I have been in earlier years. Sure, the spring is still crazy in gardenland, but I’m feeling like I’ve got it more under control.  And, I’m less stressed about the lessons, as I’ve done many of them a number of times, and I’ve acquired a lot more resources that help me develop new lessons.  The actual garden work with kids  is also something I’m more relaxed about now – I’ve come to accept (and expect) the gardens won’t look perfect, the rows won’t be straight, there will be weeds, and things will get stepped on – but I’m starting to give the students more responsibility as I feel they have gained more experience and I’ve (hopefully) gotten better at explaining the different tasks so that I don’t need to supervise every last thing. It’s a good feeling.

Two years ago, I was probably on the steepest learning curve I can remember in my life, and while it thankfully hasn’t reached a plateau, it is definitely not as steep as it was. (The new learning curve for this year is with the compost project!)  I still have lots to learn, but I’m definitely more confident.   It’s amazing to realize how much I’ve learned through teaching.  Any educators out there, I’d love to hear about your experiences!

And despite the learning curve having leveled out a bit, I hope I can look back in two years at what I’m doing now and have the same feeling of “Wow, I’ve learned a lot!”

Happy growing!

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