On Valentine’s Day, I wrote in my journal about a tree farm I pass every day on my way to work. I wrote about how I never see workers tending it, probably because I generally drive past it in the early-morning hours. Sometimes it seems more like a still-life painting than a place where things grow. It always looks the same.
Then, three days ago in the afternoon, I saw two workers there, both focused on propping up one of the saplings with supports clearly designed to provide stability. It was quite a surprise! The rows and rows of trees usually stand silent and unattended, and right now they are little more than sticks protruding from the ground, pointing skyward. Even though it seemed dormant, there must have been some signs of distress that those closely attuned to the work would have noticed, and there were indeed people in the background, doing work.
As I saw the two young men kneeling together, each with a hand on the tiny trunk, I could not help thinking how symbolic it is of what often happens in my workplace- a high school.
The rest of the trees were there too, all assembled with the same purpose, but someone noticed one was not okay, and focus and energy shifted from the crop to address the needs of the one. I don’t know what was wrong with the one, how significant the issue was, or how much time was spent on its needs. I don’t know how extensive its damage was, whether it might have a permanent problem, or how much support needed to be in place for it to have the opportunity to heal and continue to grow.
What I do know is sometimes school has to work that way. Sometimes class has to work that way, and it can be challenging. Students are not trees that stand as silent sentinels while attention is devoted to meeting the needs of one, but that one must sometimes take priority.
Lately, there have been a few students who have needed propping up, some extra stability, and a colleague and I have been working hard to do so. We’re seeing some encouraging signs of progress that the roots are taking hold, growing steady, and healing what ails them. The supports we have put in place seem to be working.
But, it also makes me wonder– What about all the other saplings in our orchard? Are their needs being met? Are they quietly withering with no outward signs of distress? How do we best nurture all those entrusted to our care? Are we paying close enough attention, or driving by, staying in our lane, focused on where we want to go?