Cleaning my classroom at the end of the year resulted in getting rid of some pretty old resources and materials. The result was not just a cleaner, “de-cluttered” classroom. I made a much more important realization in the process.

Recently I started a deep “spring cleaning” in my classroom. My district is getting ready to start a major building project, and in a couple of years, my entire school will be moving into new facilities. While that’s happening, we’re also moving toward one-to-one computing, and I’m using Google Classroom. My goal is to develop a paperless classroom in the next year or so. With all these changes going on, it makes sense to get rid of things.

It’s been a walk down memory lane, cleaning out my shelves and cabinets. In a way, it’s an archeological dig on a teaching career. There’s my copy of Shakespeare Set Free, which helped me transform my Romeo & Juliet “read and lecture” approach to a much more engaging, hands-on experience for me and my students. There are the thematic, interdisciplinary units we developed twenty years ago, when we first started teaming and the pressures surrounding state testing hadn’t yet engulfed us.

With every binder, book, and file I moved, I realized that I am not that teacher anymore. My worksheet collection is gone. Lecture notes have been recycled. Binders have been emptied and set on a table for others to collect and use.There was a little “tug” in the back of my brain as I threw things away or set them out for recycling or reuse. “What if I need that?” or “What if I get assigned to ninth grade English someday?” When I’m honest with myself, though, I realize that even if my district assigned me to senior English, which I taught my first year, 25 years ago, I wouldn’t do much of anything now like I did then. I wouldn’t lecture on the great British authors. I wouldn’t give the same writing assignments, or handle grammar lessons in isolation. I’m not that teacher anymore.

Cleaning and purging has freed up space in my classroom. Now, I have fewer totes and boxes hiding under tables and desks, and more space on book shelves. A year ago, I was considering getting rid of my papasan chairs, so that I would have more space for student tables and chairs; today, that is not a concern, and the popular seating options are still safe.

The cleaning and purging is also freeing my mind.Getting rid of old materials that no longer fit the way I teach is like cutting loose an anchor that was weighing me down and holding me back. I won’t have the temptation of looking back at what I did in the past; I can look at the course and my students with fresh eyes and apply my knowledge, skills, and experiences to developing new lessons and activities that will best serve those students and meet their needs.

I’m not the teacher I was 25 years ago. I’m also not the teacher I will be in another ten years. Each year brings new learning and new realizations; hopefully that means I’m getting a little bit better, every year.


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