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Virginia Journal of Education

Lessons of the Raspberries

A newly-retired teacher shares some of the knowledge she gained about her students while picking berries.

by Ann Prokopchak
When I was a child, I spent many happy hours every summer picking black raspberries in the vacant lot beside my house. I learned a lot about life from those little berries and, as I discovered later, a lot about kids and teaching. Here are some of those lessons:

Lesson 1: Don’t judge a book by its cover. Raspberries come in all sizes and shapes. I discovered that some of the prettiest and most appealing ones have very little taste, while the smallest and most insignificant can often be the sweetest. As a teacher, I wonder: How often do the less attractive kids get overlooked? They can be the ones with the most to offer.

Lesson 2: No pain, no gain. Berry bushes, like some of our students, are full of thorns—and raspberry thorns are particularly sharp and jagged. After a day in the thicket, I would come home covered in scratches which would bleed and hurt for days. Was it worth it? I decided that nothing was going to keep me from enjoying those scrumptious raspberries, even those that just happened to be inconveniently covered in thorns. Year after year, as a teacher, I had to endure or avoid the thorns of prickly teenagers to get to the really enjoyable place of seeing them grow in knowledge and skill. If you really believe something is worth the pain, it’s easy to keep coming back for more. Just ask any 30-year veteran.

Lesson 3: Patience is a virtue. Raspberries grow in clusters on which individual berries ripen at different times. I could return to the same cluster day after day and find another berry which had finally ripened. If berries are picked before they are ready, they are sour and hard to remove from the stem. I wonder how many children could be helped by being allowed to ripen and mature before we ask them to do things they are not quite ready for now. Just like the berries, they would be easier to work with and much sweeter in the end.

Lesson 4: Seek and you shall find. I was always amazed at the number of berries I would find hiding under the leaves of the thicket. The ones that are easy to spot and to reach are often raided by the birds and bunnies. I had to rise to the challenge of searching the thicket, looking under leaves and close to the ground for the berries that were hiding from me. What a challenge we face every day as teachers searching for the hidden (and I do mean hidden!) talents of our students. But those talents are there, waiting to be uncovered, just like those raspberries.

If teaching were so easy that anyone could do it, if every student who passed through our doors came ready to work and mature enough to learn, if there were no daily challenges to be met and hidden skills to be uncovered, I think we would be less gratified by our students’ accomplishments and by our role in them. Please keep on striving and searching and seeing the best in your students.

As for me, there are some raspberries waiting to be picked in my back yard.

Prokopchak, a member of the Winchester Education Association, retired at the end of last school year after 13 years of teaching Latin in Prince William County and 10 years of doing the same in Winchester. She also served for several years as an elementary reading tutor.


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