My $3.00 Tomato Plant


There’s a new farmer’s market in town (Thursdays 3pm – 7pm at the Turning Basin for those in Richmond, VA).  My husband and I decided to walk down and give it a try.  The verdict:  it’s nice, not huge, but a great location and a good variety of vendors.

One of the vendors was an extremely friendly farmer who asked if we had put in our garden yet.  We laughed and indicated that we had indeed filled a few pots on our patio with herbs and a pepper plant.  He asked if we had planted any tomatoes and I explained my limited success with this in the past.  He recommended a specific tomato and proceeded to give me a number of planting tips.  So I handed over my $3.00 and walked home; the proud and newly educated owner of a baby tomato plant.

We planted it on the patio today.  In the new container we bought ($16) with the bag of soil we bought ($6).  Will I get $25 worth of tomatoes out of it?  Maybe.  Is there $25 worth of joy in talking to someone who understands growing things.  In laughing with my husband about walking a mile home with a baby plant.  In tucking it into the soil and watching it grow.  I’d say absolutely yes!



I got a gold star today. Actually it was red with polka dots. I got one yesterday too. I can’t help but smile as I write this, because how can you not smile about getting a sticker! Or maybe that’s just me . . .

Anyway, my gym is running this contest where if you work out four times a week between May 1 and June 7 you are entered in a drawing to win a Kindle Fire. When you leave for the day, you’re given a sticker to put on a chart next to your name, under the correct date. This is the second time they have run this contest recently. The first time I didn’t sign up, because I already go to the gym at least four days every week. I academic-ed myself out of it: “I see your charts and stickers and gadgets and external motivation but I have my own intrinsic drive, thank you very much!”

This time I decided to step off my pedestal and play along. And the crazy thing is, it really is fun. Seriously, as I was winding down my workout this morning I found myself thinking “I get to put a sticker on the chart!” A good reminder to myself that understanding a technique is equal parts knowing theoretically and empirically how it works and understanding how it actually feels to use it.

And tomorrow, I get another sticker. That’s right, little pink striped star . . .I’ve got my eye on you!

*Gold Star from

The Tough Stuff

Part of my day job involves teaching a freshman orientation class. If you went to college in the last 15 years you probably had to take one; and if you started college in the last 5 years, I guarantee you did. They go by names like Freshman Seminar or Intro. to the University and are designed to provide a comprehensive orientation to college policies and campus resources, while also helping students develop skills that will increase their success. The version of the course I teach is worth one credit and a large percentage of the grade is participation/attendance based. It’s not particularly hard to teach or for students to do well in (read: it can and should be the proverbial easy A).

For me, the real work comes in confronting students. Drawing to their attention those little signs that loudly scream: I am going to get eaten alive by the animal that is academia. The neglected homework, the shared answers, the failure to follow directions on an exam. For me, it’s not just a semester-long lecture on time management and choosing a major; instead it’s more about not letting students turn in late work and addressing academic honesty head on.

And that part isn’t so easy. At least not for me. Because that student who is holding out his assignment a week after the deadline, face full of hope, is going to look crushed when I don’t accept it. And the other one who wanted to help a friend and gave him her worksheet to copy (which he unfortunately did, word-for-word) will want to explain why it wasn’t her fault, why she was just being helpful. And if I’m honest I can remember the desire to make new friends, too. It would be easy to just grade the homework or think the “sharing” student learned enough from our chat and does not need to be given a zero on the assignment.

It would be easy, but it wouldn’t be right. It would set the students up to think everyone would bend the rules. It would mean that I wasn’t meeting the fundamental mission of the class: to teach skills to make students successful in college. And so I take a deep breath and say I can’t take your paper, remember what the syllabus says about late work and I do understand that you were trying to help a friend, but you need to understand that the way you helped him constitutes cheating.

Because at the end of the day, I’d rather have spent 10 uncomfortable minutes with a student, than to take the easy way out and live indefinitely with the knowledge that I had failed them.