Come on a walk with me.
The trees on campus have all been heavily mulched around their bases giving the air a sweet woody smell as we walk through the quad to the halls. Students dressed in their graduation gowns are posing by trees, fountains, and brick walls, sometimes alone, sometimes arms wrapped around another, to take pictures of their long awaited and proud moment. After we walk up the stairs to my last class of the semester, we see a crowd of students huddled around a door eagerly waiting to get their exam over with. I unlock and let them in the door. They go to their usual seats and stare at their phones with ear buds tucked in their ears, some turned up so loud that I can hear the song’s lyrics. Telling them how much I enjoyed the semester and believe that all of them have learned very important things that will not only change themselves but the world around them, some roll their eyes while others smile. But none of them realize quite how nostalgic and nervous I’m feeling. I don’t really want to let them all leave, those adorable students and their phones. This just might be my last semester teaching at a university, if not ever. And none of them know how much I’m going to miss it. After a couple of hours, they began to pass in their exams one at a time and walk out. Once the last student was still writing and making sure that she had told me everything that she wanted, perfecting her sentences, proof reading for errors, she handed me her paper, wished me a happy summer and left. I sat there for a little bit thinking about this semester, how difficult it was for personal and professional reasons. How much I won’t be missed but how much I will miss it. Working in an environment where all of my efforts to plan meager professional development workshops intended to help me and my fellow adjuncts learn Google Drive were vehemently trampled and tossed out, leaving me feeling pretty undervalued and stuck. I’m a dreamer. A planner. I want to take action. I want to lead and be led. And as an adjunct, at least at my university, that isn’t possible. So, I left. I walked down the stairs and through the quad, smelling the woody air. And I went home.
This is an ending but there is also a beginning. I walked through another courtyard of grass at a school this week. It is long and wide and open. Old tall trees shade the entrance of the school and when I walk in, bright construction paper lines the walls and kids talking loudly and excitedly are in the cafeteria. My meeting with the school principal didn’t take very long before she eagerly agreed to let me plan and build an outdoor classroom and garden for the school. I have ideas. So many ideas. So many plans. Ideas and plans that I will be working on all summer. I will be attempting to grow a coalition of volunteers, civic leagues, small businesses, teachers, students and parents that will all be invested in and take ownership of this outdoor space where students can actively learn with their hands and experience. Where they get to grow food, watch insects, feed chickens, explore, do projects, eat real food, and be proud of it. I want our neighborhood to get involved and be proud to send their children to their zoned school. And I want to do it at every school in Norfolk. It just takes one person who knows other people, who knows even more people. That’s what I’ve decided to do. I thought about reopening our produce stand this fall, but I’m a bit tired of navel gazing. I’m not interesting in growing my CV, my publications, my research, my own garden, my own profits. It feels good to look outward at others and want to build them up instead of myself.
This is an ending, but it’s also a beginning. One that I will surely be writing more about and one that I hope to get you involved in. Probably force you in if you’re a close friend. And I’m ready. I’m always ready.