Early in my teaching career, I was at a cross-roads. After three years as a public school teacher, I was not sure whether I was cut out to be an educator. I loved the kids and teaching but it was clear from my run-ins with school administrators and colleagues that I was not on the same wave length as them. One Friday night, I got a call from a teacher whose class I substitute taught in. I listened for fifteen minutes as she basically tore me a new one, criticizing my teaching methods and attacking my character. This teacher did not know me personally and what could have been a really good professional development moment where she got curious about my teaching strategies to learn more, turned into a nasty exchange that ended with her saying: “They should never have certified you. You are a horrible excuse for a teacher and I don’t know how you made it through your teaching practicums.”
I didn’t know if she was right or not. At this point, I felt so discouraged and tired of swimming upstream in the education system that I quit all three school districts. At the encouragement of a friend of mine who was a horticulturist with her own landscaping company, I started working full time as an apprentice gardener. Gardening and farming was in my ancestry: Portuguese people have a deep reverence for the land and create gardens no matter where they live. It’s not uncommon for apartment balconies to be filled with pots containing edible plants. My paternal grandpa was a farmer in Portugal and continued that practice in his East Vancouver lot when he moved to Canada.
Every day working with the plants in silence, I began recovering parts of my soul that had left me bit by bit during my years as a public school teacher. I got really clear in my mind about the reasons I became an educator and questioned all the negative feedback I’d received from teachers and administrators. Why were they so threatened by my methods? Why was it so horrible to include parents in their children’s learning? Why were my students expected to follow school rules that made no sense to me or them? Why did students have no say in their education and in helping to develop the school’s ethos? I simply didn’t understand why we as educators couldn’t team up with learners. Why were we at war when we didn’t need to be?
After a year of working with the plants, I had developed a plan to open my own small school. All I needed was ten families who were on board to give it a go. I started talking to professionals in the community who had already done this. During my research, I found out about Wondertree, SelfDesign and Brent Cameron’s learning philosophy (he had co-founded these learning organizations). I asked him about starting a school and he said, “We are already doing what you want to do. Why don’t you just come work with us?” That was in 2004 and the rest is history. During our first meeting as SelfDesign professionals, I looked around at my fifty colleagues sitting in a circle discussing education strategies and I knew I’d found the “staff room” I belonged in. We were all on the same team and we all had a similar value of working with children and families to tailor education plans that fit the particular learner. I’d come home as an educator.
Most of all, I learned through the plants to accept myself as I was and to trust what I knew deep inside of me: I was a good educator with a passion for advocating for children’s rights to learn in ways that matched their sensibilities. I found a place deep inside of me that I anchored into so that I could continue to navigate in a world that didn’t honour a child’s right to steer his or her own ship in life. Today, I am a much more effective educator because of this team approach. Though I honour and respect my public school colleagues, I don’t regret my decision to leave and take a path less traveled. Plants stay rooted while they reach for the sun. They give life without asking anything of us in return. They stand in what they know with tremendous trust. They taught me that. They showed me that what I was actually doing as an educator was aligning with Life and its natural flow. It paid off big to stop warring with what is so.
“To understand that life is a wise teacher willing to show us our higher self, revolutionizes how we live…We see life as trustworthy, here to usher us into a deeper self-connection. We also know it’s inherently good, a mirror of our own internal state of goodness. This approach recognizes that we are fundamentally interconnected to all that happens in our life, so that we are co-creators of the reality in which we live. Life doesn’t happen to us, but happens with us.”
-Shefali Tsabary from “The Conscious Parent”