Walnut Room this way

Walnut Room this way

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Last Grad School Class

Tonight was the final class for the summer semester, and my last class to teach this cohort of grad students. I have come to admire them, respect them, and enjoy them, but importantly, to learn from them. Last night I was trying to think about what I wanted to say to end the class. I remembered the first time I had to speak at the recognition program for the seniors at HSU. I had come in after the semester started to replace a beloved faculty member who had been with the program from the beginning. My colleague told me "Doris always gave them each a flower." First of all, I wasn't Doris, and never tried to be. Doris was a wonderful social worker and educator, and I learned much from her. I still use her theoretical framework to this day. I hope over the years that I have mellowed a bit and become a bit more nurturing, like Doris, as well.

But back then, I just knew that passing out flowers did not feel like me, and like it or not (the students) I was there and the one ending that year. Over the years, I would do different things to acknowledge them and their successes. As I shared with students tonight, I was not much on passing out flowers, but did like to share my words. There was the year that I quoted some obscure German philosopher about those of us who were "on the way" valuing the people in our lives who did not step over our mistakes but instead named them and helped us see what we needed to change to clean it up. There was the year that I gave everyone a new "gold" dollar and made the analogy how they were solid gold to me. There was the year I "gifted" them with things of meaning to me: my copy of Gilligan's In a Different Voice for the woman who discovered things about herself; a big green rock I found in a river bed in Colorado and gave to the student who was "a little green" (inexperienced), but solid, for example.

And there was the year that I gave the "flowers" speech. I said some of them were like roses, needing nurturing, and fertilizer, and just the right amount of water to take root and flourish. Some of them were like morning glories or night blooming jasmine, making a brilliant bloom at a particular time of day (or night) and then quietly receding. (Dandelions come later.)

Last night, I was sitting in the yard watching the birds and deer and noted the morning glories, the blooms all curled up, and was reminded of that year's speech. Then I noted how the vines of the morning glory were twined around everything in sight; one little vine, begun from one seed, had sprung up in one of my potted plants, wrapped itself around the trellis, reached out to a plant stand, wrapped around itself a few times to gain strength to move over to another anchor, and that all along the length of the vine were blossoms...which would produce a new seed when allowed to go to seed, which would make a lot of new plants from one vine.

Tonight, as I wrapped up the session, I shared the story of the first time I gave that talk. At the time, I saw morning glories and night blooming jasmine as somehow inferior, less than. I realized last night how important all those other aspects are--it is not just the blooms or the showy parts, but how the morning glory anchors all over the place, reaching and stretching, and if left alone, will come back up next year and the year after. I bought these seeds the first year I was here, in the summer of 2004. They are still blooming.

Last night I was reminded yet again of all I have learned over the years, and all I have learned since coming to Mississippi. I know that every time I attempt to teach, I do not always succeed. I reach some, do not reach others. Sometimes I am surprised at someone whom I reached that I did not have a clue was affected by me; sometimes I am surprised at not reaching the student with whom I thought I had a more meaningful relationship.

As I finished the class, I went back to the dandelions, and how I hoped for them to be dandelions. Dandelions are found everywhere--in the best manicured yards in the nicest neighborhoods, and in between the flagstones of the walk to the most dilapidated rusted trailer on some backwoods Mississippi road. They are in the cracks in the sidewalk in an inner city and in the park of a pretty little country town. Who has not smiled with joy at a handful of dandelions clasped in the hands of a child, who presented them to you as if they were the finest orchid? And when their time of blooming those sunny little yellow heads is over, seen a puff of wind blow the seeds hither where they take root and become even more dandelions in even more places? I want these social workers to be dandelions.

I am privileged to be able to teach here in Mississippi, where there is such great need, but also where there is such great passion. I have seen the possibility and the promise, and have been gratified to be able to contribute to that possibility and promise at times. And always, I learn, from each failure, each mistake, each thing that did not turn out quite the way I had hoped or intended. I cannot imagine a more personally rewarding moment than tonight, to be totally surprised out of the blue with their acknowledgement, and to hear an accomplished social worker, mother, grandmother, and professional in her own right who is highly regarded in the state to thank me for what I had contributed to her self-understanding and growth. I am always just a tiny bit amazed at moments like that. I tend to be more focused on seeing the student who looks withdrawn and not present, wondering why I am failing to reach her or him, and letting it define me, rather than the ones who are paying rapt attention, clearly engaged.

Many years ago, I attended a workshop training and at the end we had to rate the trainer. I gave our trainer high ratings in all but facilitating the role plays. I told him that was more about me than it was him, but he looked me squarely in the eye and said, "Not to me it isn't."


Gigi said...

This is such a great post. I will never look at dandelions in the same way again. We have them everywhere here, too, and I have never disliked them the way some people do, calling them "weeds" and wanting to be rid of them, but I don't suppose I have really appreciated them for their hardy, prolific little selves, either. I love the idea of social workers being dandelions, popping up in all sorts of places and spreading throughout the land. :) I also appreciate about you that you are always a learner and never so content or complacent in your own knowledge that you cannot grow and acquire more skills from any circumstance. What an example for your students. Doris would be proud and, more than that, would be inspired.

Suzassippi said...

Thank you for your unflagging support all these years as well. Dandelions in Unalaska? Who would have thought!

Betty said...

Yes, a great post! Social Workers are definitely dandelons and couldn't be defined better.