If only children were like petunias

3rd September 2004 at 01:00
Summer's nearly over and I survey my garden with wistful pride. Six weeks ago, I evicted 200 generations of snails and relished the feeling of red earth on my hands instead of red ballpoint. During the summer term, the garden had become more than forgiving: it was positively Darwinian.

Now, watching a late-summer bee buzzing around my head, I realise once again that gardening is the perfect antidote to the stresses of teaching.

In fact, it is an entire set of antidotes, each one perfectly matched to a specific source of frustration.

For a start, that bee is the only one around here who's in a hurry, Flowers are so much less demanding than pupils. When they look droopy, you just chop off their heads and they grow two more. Easy. Flowers stay where you put them, and they never answer back. If you plant a pansy, it won't shout at you: "But I want to sit next to the birdbath! I'm always next to the wall!"

Compared to teaching, it's all so simple here. Take my new roses. They love horse-poo. Forget assessment objectives and marking schemes. This is just one great big, beautiful bag of shit and all my roses love it.

Bluebells are another example. If they are completely out of control, you can get rid of as many as you like without a single complaint from their parents. And the only target here is to keep all the nice things alive. You don't have to march up and down scowling at your petunias, urging them to meet this season's arbitrary but imperative target of seven flowers per plant.

You have greater freedom to experiment here, too. Dig up a tree stump and you electrify the ant world. Leave a hose at a funny angle and you create a shower for a hot robin. No one will ever ask you how it fits into your scheme of work.

And after marking piles of poetry essays, it's good to get back to nature, the source of so many poets' inspiration. Keats loved gardening, and on his deathbed, told his friend that his "greatest pleasure had been watching the growth of flowers".

Well, one growing season ends and another begins. After all, there is one thing that teachers and gardeners share: a love of influence. In the garden, you can nurse a miserably dried-out, cut-price geranium back to life. In the classroom, you can see a pupil thriving, when his or her confidence was once withering on the vine.

It just takes a bit more from us than sunshine and horse-poo. Have a good term!

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