Farmers and ranchers

Extending on my Wild West metaphor from my last post, and my students as cats or dogs metaphor from long ago, I’m playing with another false dichotomy as I take a break from writing my book chapter. I think that teachers tend to be either ranchers or farmers. And I know because I’m a rancher.

flickr cc stevecadman

As a rancher, I provide vast lands of resources and fenced areas for safety. I take the group to new grassy areas as needed to help their growth. I make sure they are provided with the basics they need to thrive. But they do the work, seeking out the food, water and salt. I round them up and brand them, but of course they don’t do everything I tell them, and so long as they’re OK I leave them alone. If one or two wander off, I try not to worry – all of them cannot be expected to thrive. My ranch is open. I do not choose the qualities, abilities, or potential of my stock. Instead I focus on creating the best environment possible.

Ranchers as teachers focus on creating a learning environment that is rich in resources and community, spending much time in preparing the right conditions. They are concerned with the doings of the group and provide freedom for both success and failure.

I know many teachers who are farmers. They plant the seeds and help the crops grow. They tend and coddle, feed and water. They get rid of weeds that might inhibit growth and fret when a plant doesn’t blossom or thrive.

Farmers focus on the students individually, get involved in their personal challenges, and show sympathy. They provide extensive support in terms of counseling, and helping students find resources. They often spend extra time with individuals in office hours, teaching and re-teaching what was taught in class.

As a rancher, I am both fascinated and annoyed by the efforts of farmers, who want to fence off my stock when they need to graze, encouraging them to expect assistance. They help students enormously in terms of safety and caring, but provide less in terms of freedom. I worry that students coddled by farmers will have trouble in their jobs, expecting bosses and co-workers to always help them out. I worry that they won’t be able to move beyond circumstances like poverty, broken homes, tough jobs, and difficult schedules to get a university degree. Instead, I want to foster independence and strength.

In both cases, of course, ranchers and farmers are caretakers. We do not see the final results of our efforts once our stock or crop leaves our land. We cannot say which way is best. But whichever role is more like ours, we need to understand and appreciate the other. But clearly, I’m a rancher.

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