September is a school teacher's January. It is a time for reflection and renewal. It's a time to revisit and reevaluate last year's efforts in order to improve and refine for this year. Never has this been more clear to me than over the past few weeks.
Our school has been undergoing major renovation for the past year and a half or so. We dealt with ceiling tiles falling in, a carbon monoxide scare, heating failures in the dead of winter, a minor fire in the gym, lots and lots of dust, and the frustration of not knowing if and when the water would work in the bathroom. But we soldiered on.
When I got the notice that my department and I would be relocated to new classrooms on the other side of the building, I was kind of excited to roll up my sleeves and get rid of the junk that I hadn't had time to get rid of before. If you know me, you know that I'm just a bit OCD (well....more than a bit) and that I like things clean, orderly.....and labeled! Color coded is even better! And in a binder earns you EXTRA CREDIT!!
So....I plunged in with both hands and began tossing things with a mad abandon. I used the same rule of thumb that I use when I clean my closets and cupboards at home: if I haven't used it, touched it, thought about it or looked at it in a year, it's gotta go. I unearthed worksheets I'd inherited from the three teachers before me....worksheets that I was afraid to throw out because I was convinced they contained more wisdom than anything I could create. I've since learned that this is a fallacy and that I have great ideas of my own....but there's nothing wrong with using them as a resource. I found worn out novels stuffed in the corners of my closets and stacks of magazines to use for art projects. I boxed up dozens of books from my classroom lending library and several class sets of textbooks and workbooks and dictionaries. My task now...as the new school year approaches....is to set up my new classroom with only those things that truly matter and will serve my students and me well.
At the risk of sounding like an 80s sitcom....what have we learned from all this?
1. Change is a good thing. It is always a good idea to take a step back and reevaluate things. Why are we holding on to things that we know have not served us well or have outlived their usefulness?
2. If we don't change, we run the risk of becoming stagnant. Stagnant water is of little use to most living creatures. The few things that do thrive in it tend to be annoying, blood-sucking, and dangerous. This is true of PEOPLE who prefer to remain in stagnant waters as well. It's always a good idea to inject something new, to move beyond your comfort zone, to change things up a bit.
3. Use the past as a stepping stone and build from it. Just because things are old doesn't mean that they are not sound. The only exception to my "if I haven't used it in a year" rule is that I don't toss anything that is valuable and significant. We should never throw away something that works and something that has value just to make room for the new. All good wardrobes should contain classics that never really go out of style. All good teachers should be using classic strategies, resources, activities, etc. that never stop working with students.
4. Be brutally honest with yourself in your evaluation. While you're going through the "stuff" in your life, decide whether you are holding onto things for the sense of security they give and whether that sense of security is healthy. It can be scary to let things go, but you'll feel liberated once they are no longer there.
Plus....I won't see you on an episode of Hoarders anytime soon.