How often does a book on education achieve both literary and visual artistry? How often would you expect any book on education to be both practical and inspiring? Had you asked me these questions a couple of weeks ago, I would answered seldom to the second question and never to the first. Both questions together? Impossible. Then I encountered My Garden Sprouts by Sharla Steever, illustrated by Diana Magnuson.
My Garden Sprouts is an annotated journal for elementary classroom teachers. Its 127 illustrated pages are filled with space for a teacher to make notes about his/her unfolding practice over a three year period. Each journal page begins with wise and insightful prompts. The quality of these prompts grows from Sheever’s deep experience as a mentor and teacher leader at her school. Magnuson’s illustrations are gorgeous; her self-professed Allegorical Realism is the perfect foil to Steever’s use of metaphor. They are understated, supporting, but never overshadowing the professional intent of the book.
A 2011 Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow for the US Department of Education and a National Board Certified Teacher, Steever is a master teacher form South Dakota who teaches fourth grade. Her video Tokata: Moving Forward in Indian Education, illustrating her profound knowledge of Native American education issues, was previously reviewed here on Education Worker. Magnuson is a gifted illustrator from Michigan with a large portfiolio of illustrated children’s books.
Steever is also an accomplished gardener. She uses gardening as a literary metaphor for teaching. The culture of individual vegetables and flowers illustrates the character of students and situations one encounters in school. Pumpkins “take up a lot of space.” With regard to pumpkin students, Sheever invites us to consider how we can build their boundary awareness. Onions “are socially repellant” – how can we peel back the layers, getting past the hunger, poverty or abuse to hold these students to “compassionate high standards”? At every step Steever challenges even jaded veterans to consider students in novel ways, and with humor and wit asks us to reconceive our classrooms and the way we see our students.
This journal should become a modern classic for the induction and mentoring of new elementary teachers. I could see it being a graduation gift for new teachers, or a gift to new hires, especially in rural places. I could see it being a standard text for Peer Assistance and Review programs, directed both to the new teachers and struggling veterans typically served by these programs.
As I read, however, it became clear to me that this journal is for anyone at any level of experience who simply wants to ramp it up to the next level in their practice. Compassionate, wise and eminently practical – how often does that happen in an education book?