I shed a few tears before I even arose from bed this morning. It told me that my emotions were close to the surface. Today was the day I would officially end my twelve year’s of leadership as the founder and teacher of an after school garden club at one of our local elementary schools.
By 10 o’clock it was done. More tears escaped my lids, silently, as I told the principal in a gravelly, cracking voice I would not be back to lead the club. My emotions were on the surface. How quickly did they show! An activity that I was passionate about would no longer take place. Literally, several hundred students (400- 500+) have been served over the last 12 years. The numbers are real! I kept all the attendance sheets! Hopefully, the seed of environmental stewardship was planted in some of their minds.
The tough part of this conversation was that I had to tell the principal why I was choosing to end the garden club. I had to tell her I felt unappreciated, undervalued, and disregarded. I had to tell her that I had started to feel like an intruder in a building filled with teachers with whom I was not connecting any longer. Gone were the days of receiving a smile and a “thank you for your time” from nearly every staff member I encountered. Recently, I began to dread arriving to school for garden club. When I passed teachers in the hall, they would actually turn their head to avoid saying hello. Why? I do not know. It is not one teacher but several, more than half the staff.
So, to the teachers who valued and appreciated my efforts made for the students and garden club – I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You will not be forgotten for letting a well-meaning parent, turned informal educator, bring her passion to the school community. The club was founded, in part, as an act of giving back.
And for those teachers who never said thank you, who would not smile at me, but instead would turn their head to avoid speaking to me, shame on you! You know who you are. I did not name you, but you know who you are. You are a large part of the reason Evergreen Garden Club has ended.
This is the reason I had to meet with the principal today. The culture of the building is not conducive to my dedication as a volunteer any longer. I met with the principal because it is her building and her staff. I asked that the culture change. There will be another well-meaning parent volunteer, or community educator, or informal educator that will want to enrich the students’ lives by an activity like garden club. They need to be welcomed and feel appreciated, regularly. You know who you are! You need to change.
I shared how it was so strange to receive words of wonder, gratitude, and motivation from strangers in my coursework, on my blog, or from community members whose children did not even have the opportunity to be in this unique after school program. It was strange because I do not perceive the same degree of appreciation from teachers/staff in the very building where the activity was conducted, the grounds beautified, hundreds of students enriched, and hundreds of hours spent.
I gleaned two things from our conversation this morning. 1) “Perception is reality” – as stated by a former volunteer for the school district our principal previously came from, and 2) Even if you think someone has said thank you, say it again, and say it with a smile!
A smile matters. Saying thank you does matter – especially for a volunteer.
You know who you are.