I was pottering about in the garden tonight and thought about a little story that I wanted to share.
If you teach long enough you eventually collect a whole lot of really lovely stories about the kids you teach. Every teacher can probably tell you about those lovely moments where a student has said or done something that makes everything worthwhile. A little note at the end of the year, a quiet word about how you’ve made a difference to them, or just doing something that reminds you of why you became a teacher.
Quite a few years ago I worked in a catholic boys school in Sydney where I was the head of IT. I happened to have my own office (in the same room as the servers of course) but I tried to make it a bit homely by bringing in a few plants to brighten it up. Not being the greenest of thumbs, I killed most of them. I’d replace them, but then kill the replacements as well. As a gardener, I really don’t have the knack of it.
Like many teachers, I had a group of kids who liked to hang around me. Because of my role as the geeky IT guy, the kids that liked to hang around always seemed to be the slightly geeky, slightly eccentric kids that have lots of personality, and I really enjoyed their company. Many of them would just come to my office at lunchtimes and hang out. One of them, a boy named Patrick, often remarked on my appallingly bad gardening skills and noted how I seemed to kill every plant I had. I had to agree and we had a good laugh about it.
One day, Pat came to my office and presented me with an unexpected gift. It was a small plastic punnet of baby cactus plants, small enough to fit in my hand. He jokingly told me that he wanted to give me a cactus because they require almost no attention and they were probably the only thing I wouldn’t kill. We had a laugh about it and it sat on my desk in pride of place, right next to my computer monitor.
Well, time marches on, and Pat eventually graduated and left the school. I eventually left the school too and moved on to other jobs, other schools. I took my cactus with me though, and put it in the garden at home where it actually started to flourish and do ok.
That was many years ago. Here I am, 10 years, 4 schools, 3 houses and 1 divorce later, and I still have my little “Pat Cactus”. Except it’s not so little anymore. It’s grown. Like we all do. I’ve grown. I’m sure Pat’s grown. The “little cactus” has grown and split and been repotted many times now. It now fills several large pots and a few small ones. It gets stronger and greener and every time I look at it I think about how special it was to be given something like that by a student and how special it is that it still grows stonger every day. I hope that’s symbolic of many things.
In what I think is a rather nice twist to the story, I discovered recently that Pat lives in the same area as me, in fact only a few streets away. So, a little while ago, I took some of the smaller offshoots of the now-large cactus, planted them in a small pot and took them down to Pat’s house as a gift for him, along with a note that said “I told you I wouldn’t kill it!”. It was my way of closing the loop, and, symbolically at least, keeping that wonderful circle of life going.
The story means a lot to me, because as teachers we start lots of ripples that we might never get to see build to waves and break on distant shores. As the cactus continues to flourish, I think about the hundreds of kids I’ve had the great joy to teach over the years and hope that they are flourishing just as well. Even if I’ve only ever had one student give me the gift of a plant that has grown and flourished, I’d like to think that the many students I’ve taught over the years have all given me the gift of knowing they’ve grown and flourished.