When I lived in Pennsylvania, I could never plant a garden. Our yard was always shaded and all we grew well was moss and ivy. Once I tried a pot of cherry tomatoes, but even after carrying it around to the sunshine, all we got were a few hard little green marbles.

After we moved to South Carolina, I was determined to try growing some vegetables. So, we bought some good topsoil, dug a garden, and planted onions, peppers, eggplant, green beans, and snow peas. I watered and watched and waited for the first little shoots to appear.

My neighbor told me that the "critters" in the area would probably eat the vegetables before I did. She was right.

Now in Florida, hope springs eternal. We planted a lime tree in our back yard. Right now, there are 10 or so blossoms on the tree, so we're hoping to get some mighty nice limes. That is, if the Florida critters stay away.

Planting seeds reminds me a lot of teaching. So much of the time, teachers aren't sure whether their words will take hold and prosper. For ten months every year, they plant ideas and theories and concepts. They weed out wrong answers and cultivate the right ones. They try to provide optimum conditions for growth.

But, like planting vegetables or lime trees, teaching is not foolproof. Sometimes the seeds fall on deaf ears. Sometimes the growing child gets sidetracked by the world outside the classroom.

Even the most talented teacher cannot compete with a negative environment for learning. Whether it is the dirty, unsafe, crowded school or the unsupportive home life, a child cannot learn unless conditions are favorable. The most expensive seeds in the world won't produce any vegetables if the dirt isn't any good, if there is no rain, or the sun doesn't come out.

A wise philosopher once said that "a teacher affects eternity" and a teacher "can never tell when his influence stops." How true. Most of the time, a teacher can't tell right away if his teaching has succeeded. Students may do well on a written test, but the material can be forgotten right afterward.

The best test of a teacher's influence will come years down the road. When a former student succeeds in life, his old teacher can feel partially responsible. Sometimes it takes years for a teacher to see a "harvest" of the seeds of knowledge he has sown.

And, what if the "critters' out there eat the growing vegetables before they have a chance to make it to the dining room table? What if a child with great promise never reaches his fulfillment? Who is to blame? Society? The family? The school system? The teacher? Sometimes, even the child himself?

Unless the seed is bad to start with, something usually grows. If the environment for growth is present, and the seed is good, great progress will follow. If one of the necessary ingredients is missing or weak, then growth is impeded.

As I sit and watch for the little green limes to appear on my tree, I shoo away the scavenging critters. I water, hail the sun, weed, and nurture. The entire process is very similar to my experience as a teacher. God willing, we'll all have a good harvest.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO DISCUSS THIS OR ANOTHER EDUCATION AND FAMILY TOPIC WITH DR. SMITH, SHE CAN BE REACHED AT HER EMAIL ADDRESS jsmith1313@cfl.rr.com [1] mailto:GINJIMS@SCCOAST.NET [2] OR IN CARE OF THIS NEWSPAPER.