I love this room. Every week on Tuesday I would come into the office, send my lecture/worksheet to the printer, then walk down to the classroom before any of my students would arrive and open the blinds to let in the morning light. I felt it fitting to have such beautiful trees just outside the window of a horticulture class.
For the past 16 weeks I have been filling in for a professor on maternity leave. However, now the students have gone, exams have been graded, and final grades have been submitted. The semester is over. My time as professor has come to an end. I think it may take some time for all that has occurred to fully sink in. It’s rather funny how all of this came about.
I was at a garden festival talking with one of my favorite master gardener’s whose been such an inspiration to me over the years. She is a former cut-flower grower who knows the business well and has given me helpful advice on many occasions. We both agree that you have to be a crazy person to do what we do and still love it.
I was confessing to her that my last garden class I taught was a flop. I was sure that I did a terrible job and told her that it was likely that I would not be teaching much more in the future. She didn’t believe a word of it and said I should keep teaching.
Literally just a few minutes later a professor we both knew who teaches at a local community college pulled up in the “gator” (name of utility vehicle used at the campus). I smiled and congratulated her because a few moments ago I was told she was pregnant. She said that she was glad to see me because there was something she needed to ask me. I was surprised by this and wondered it might be. “Would you be willing teach my class in the fall?”
There have been very few times in my life when I’ve been completely speechless. This was one of them. My mouthed dropped open. I tried to make sounds, but nothing would come out. All I could do was look at her blankly and then to my friend who was nodding and mouthing to me: “Say yes!” I explained to her that I’ve never taught in an academic environment before. Was I even qualified? Did I really know anything at all?
She told me that she was confident that I would do just fine. After she left it was just my friend and myself. I looked at her with an expression that said: “Did that just happen?” She gave me a smile that said: “I told you so.” Then I started rambling on at how unqualified I was and that there was no way I would be able to do this! She explained to me that it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and something that would look great on the ol’ resume.
I walked away in a complete daze. I figured it was a few months away. I had plenty of time to wrap my head around this. Maybe she would forget she asked me and ask someone else? However, sure enough I received an email in the summer from her asking me again. This was for real and I had to make a decision. Every part of me wanted to say no because my fear was so strong. However, my sister-in-law, who has done some teaching told me that she was more than confident that I could this. It is only because of her encouragement that I even agreed to teach this past semester. I am so thankful that she did.
Everything was so surreal. The first time I stepped into my classroom alone I thought I was dreaming. After several years of being a student I was going to be on the other side of the desk. The idea of me teaching was powerful. I kept thinking about my father and how amazing that I was going to be given the opportunity to follow in his footsteps. Even more amazing that at one time I believed I would never be given this chance because I flunked out of high school and attended an adult high school. I couldn’t deny that this was definitely going to be a milestone in my life.
The weight of it all consumed me for days. I meditated often trying to convince myself that it was going to be just another day and that I was still just a regular person. It didn’t help that all my friends were addressing me as “professor” before all the paperwork was even completed. Even though it was all I could think about, I stayed relatively calm until the night before.
I was up until around 2:30 in the morning. I couldn’t sleep. Each time I closed my eyes I could see actual students in the seats through the small window on the door. I got to school extremely early. I listened to relaxing music. I looked over my lecture. Then it was 7:58 am – time to head to the classroom.
I’ve been on stage plenty of times during my high school days of theatre, but I’ve never been this nervous. I walked down the long ivory hallway remembering my days as a student. Each step brought me closer to what I feared the most. I realized that I had been so scared of teaching that I was secretly hoping that August 20th would disappear off the calendar. But here I was walking towards a room where people were waiting for me to teach them the knowledge I had gained.
Fortunately you can only have your “first day” once in your life. The first few weeks my body came to recognize when it was Tuesday because every muscle would tense up and my stomach was always filled with butterflies. At the end of the day I would pull into my driveway and think: “I survived another week.”
Preparing my lectures was really hard work and the fact that I’m a perfectionist made it even harder. Just when I thought I could relax, another week would fly by and it was time to hit the books. It kinda felt like being in college all over again. Always having a constant deadline. Except now I couldn’t just decide to not turn something in – I had to show up with something no matter what.
This caused me to hate being a teacher for a while. I loved giving a lecture, but preparing it was another thing. It turned out that this “hatred phase” was just part of the process. I was in yoga class one day in a pose feeling pretty mindful when it occurred to me that I was having my very own “Eat, Pray, Love” moment. If you’ve ever seen the movie or read the book you know she had some difficulty reciting a text called “The Guru Gita”. She complained about it causing her to have horrible anxieties about her life, but she was told that it’s likely she’s having a positive response since she was experiencing such “strong reactions”.
I was most certainly having strong reactions. I started to dread Mondays intensely. I was being forced to create something on my own and then share it with others on a regular basis. I’m an introvert and I happen to have a history of being very insecure. Both of these traits do not mix well with what I was asked to do. But I did it anyway because I said that I would. I always keep my word and I tend to do things all the way – not half-ass. The “strong reactions” means that growth is happening. That is always a good thing.
So I survived. It was an experience that I will never forget as long as I live. It taught me so many things about myself and about things that life has to offer to you without your knowledge. I was given wonderful complements by my students and department head regarding my lecturing skills. Talking about plants comes easy to me. I can actually say now that I’m pretty good at it. I’ve given a garden lecture to a local club since I started teaching. For the first time it felt comfortable and natural.
I’ve learned that I love studying about horticulture so much that I would always try to find something interesting to share with my students. I would even say that I’m proud of the lectures that I created and the way I put them together. I learned many things from my students who told me their experiences with horticulture. It was clear that most of them shared my passion for the outdoors and plants too. I learned to be brave and say things in class that I believed in even when I knew I would be met with some raised eyebrows. I wasn’t worried, I can back up what I say, as they soon learned. I realized how many awesome horticulture friends I have who were kind enough to come and share their expertise with my class or allowed us to visit their facility.
What strikes me the most about this experience is how it all came about. One cannot deny that fate had a hand in this. Oh you think you can’t teach huh? Teaching a college level horticulture course was a distant dream of mine. One of those that you fantasize about, but never truly believe it will happen. I never told anyone about this dream except my husband. It was something I thought maybe I would do much later in life after I had retired from a long horticultural career.
However, even without me seeking this dream, it came to me. Some of the best things in life just become available to you. I’ve learned that there is no use in planning anything. If something is meant to happen it will happen. I’ve been working on not worrying about where my career will go or will not go. I have setbacks at times, but then I make myself remember what all just occurred and how this good thing that came my way was not planned.
I visited my classroom one final time today. I walked down the hallway remembering how nervous I was my first day. As I was pulling out of the parking lot I was feeling pretty sad. I wanted to go home and mope around. Instead I went to a yoga class and as my mind found stillness I realized I was going to have time for my garden classes again. I started to feel really excited as I thought about what my topic might be. I also felt eager to get back to work on a client’s design that was put aside during the semester.
I look forward to seeing where else my career takes me. People keep asking me what are you going to do next? Will you be teaching more in the future? My answer is that I don’t know the answer to either of those questions. But I do know that there will be more good things to come.