Monday through Friday I tend a garden completely different than the one that surrounds my house. I spend the day with 150 sixth graders exploring the weird and often wacky world of science. None of my students are weeds; they are all roses, some just a bit thornier than others. They arrive in September excited to be in middle school but with minds already dulled by five years of worksheets. And then we race gerbils and measure the distances covered using meters, not feet, we chew chew gum to see how much mass is lost, and shake our butts to dance music for three minutes when we've been sitting too long. Hopefully, every day my garden will bloom and grow, roots shooting deep into mushy brain cells. They pepper me with questions, their filterless thoughts erupting from their mouths like cognitive popcorn. On Wednesday, I climbed to my favorite platform, giving a quick sermon on the importance of independent thinking as opposed to filling in blanks or bubbles. A student in my public, separation-of-church-and-state school yelled, "Amen!" and I giggled.
Tomorrow is my annual Play with Fire Day. To teach the concepts of density in the atmosphere, I light a piece of paper on fire, slip it into a milk bottle, plop an egg on top, and watch it forced into the bottle by the change in air pressure. I didn't create this demonstration but wish I had. My students watch in rapt silence. I always wear short sleeves and joke about how I hope I don't set myself on fire this year. I station a kid next to the fire extinguisher and ask him/her seriously if they know how to use it. The entire demo only takes a few minutes and after the egg sinks into the bottle with a smelly, smoky plop, the class erupts in cheers and the students yell, "Do it again!" Just an egg, a match, some paper, and a milk bottle. The roses burst into bloom and grow taller and stronger. Am I a teacher? No, just a gardener.