In the summer of 2007, I traveled to Mamelodi, South Africa for a mission trip. I was on the school team that met with African teachers at their local school, Bophelong; we lesson planned, worked on building literacy, and discussed the key issues facing them. When I looked around at their surroundings – metal huts, dirt streets, kids running around parentless and shoeless – I assumed these teachers faced something far more difficult than anything I faced at Princeton. Surprisingly, while this was a different continent full of students living at a level of poverty nearly non-existent in America, we found ourselves working through the same problems: attendance, behavior, intrinsic motivation, finding engaging curriculum, getting students to do homework, helping young people to overcome their home lives.
Each morning, the teachers at Bophelong School gathered to pray for their days, for the current struggles at the school – and most importantly, to pray for their students. One particular morning devotion stuck with me, and left a lasting mark on my personal teaching philosophy. It started with the sharing of this Bible verse:
By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. … Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. – Matthew 7:16-18, 20
The teacher leading the prayer for the day challenged us to be recognized by the “fruit” we produce as teachers: our students. Our students are direct reflections of us. Our roots give them the nutrients they need to grow, so we need to stay grounded and healthy – emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. The fruit’s potential rests in our branches, in our choices.
As an English teacher and a passionate educator, this metaphor resonated deep in me. What my students are comes from me. How my students act comes from how I act. And when my students are not living up to their potential, the harsh truth is that perhaps I am also not living up to my potential. However, if I am “good,” then no matter where they come from, no matter what their ability levels, no matter how they behave in class, no matter what their current grade is, all of my students will also be “good”– and I need to see them this way.
Though sometimes it can be wearisome, I try to remember that my students are my fruit. I am responsible for the way they grow, for providing them nutrients, for helping them succeed so they are ready to become their own tree and spread their own seeds.
Kristin Coey Grote
English Teacher, Princeton High School