Spring Clean Your Teaching

efficient happy May 01, 2016


I have survived another Chicago winter, with only myself to blame. Once upon a time, I was transplanted here by my dear mother, whom I can only trust knew nothing of the climate. Surely, I thought, bitter pre-teen eyes narrowed and scanning the horizon for any sign of the glorious yellow bus signaling my rescue from certain death-by-ice-pellet, no sane person would knowingly subject an allegedly precious CHILD to the horrors of winter in this city. Somehow, she must not have gotten word.


Yet, here I remain, decades later, gulping down big bites of the first warm air of spring, ever so thankful once again to have been paroled. Mind you, it isn’t quite time for the first blooms to peek through, but you learn to appreciate the little things. At least we can SEE the ground again, the grey and tired snow blissfully, finally, mercifully, melted away.


“Before you leave the house, look in the mirror, and remove one accessory.”
Coco Chanel


The art of subtraction is a beautiful thing. It is, in fact, one of very favorite ways to achieve calm. Serenity calls for paring down, for finding the essence, to clearing the way for blooms to pop. When clutter is removed, suddenly there is room for all sorts of wonder to appear. This is nowhere more true than in my classroom, and in yours.


When I landed my very first teaching gig, I inherited this front and center showpiece of a room. The place had great bones, all brick and carved oak and arched windows reaching up to the sky. Glorious light, a bona fide CHALKboard and a prime location, just steps from the grand main entrance, guarded by legit antique gargoyles. It was a beauty. I was thrilled. All the storage space was just a bonus, with closed cabinets lining an entire back wall. Until I opened them and found not an inch of true “space” left. I put my little box of new teacher belongings down on the desk and sighed. Well. Truth be told, more like cried.


There’s no crying in baseball. Or something.


I have always been one of those can’t think straight in chaotic space types. It was beyond overwhelming to consider clearing out the cabinets, yet I was compelled to do just that, immediately. I was so dazed by all of the contents, I didn’t know where to begin.  All of it had assumedly been deemed important or else why bother to store it for the new teacher at all?


There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason. A random sampling produced math curriculum materials I knew I needed, mixed in with artsy-craftsy apple bulletin board borders I most decidedly did NOT. I felt like I was in one of those old looney tunes cartoons: a little angel on one shoulder, behooving me to smilingly keep all the teachery goodness that had been bestowed upon me and a little devil on the other, slyly suggesting torching the lot in a celebratory bonfire in the courtyard, to be followed by a stealth purchase order for new textbooks.




I finally decided there was no choice but to walk a line between the two. I dragged over a big table, in the late August heat, and sat down on top of it, in front of the first foreboding cabinet. I soldiered forth. “KEEPS” to my left, “GOES” to my right. And lo and behold. There WAS an organizing system. It was reverse chronological, front to back. As in: 2000’s in the front of each cabinet, 1970’s in the back. I wish I was kidding.


It was Columbus Day weekend by the time I had managed to conquer the beast, what with all the teaching and such. In the end, I believe I pruned the important items of at least three teachers before me. I remember the natural ratio of the GOES to KEEPS piles being roughly ten to one, which kept me on track as a goal, even through the nostalgic filmstrip collections. I trashed that which should have been years ago, gifted away the valuable but useless-to-me, donated lots of the rest and happily displayed all the treasures in the light of day. 


I ended up with space that just BREATHED with relief, right along with me. The more I cleaned out, the more it seemed the room gained energy, like it had been quite literally weighed down. My teaching gained momentum right along with the room. The effect was so freeing that I still do seasonal reviews of my storage, three classrooms later. Spring is my favorite time for this ritual.


Not quite pack up the room time, but certainly late enough to know what you actually use and what is bringing down your space. Fresh air through open windows brings opportunity. Open up those time vaults in your own classroom. Trust yourself. It matters not what stays and goes, if it fits for you. Just melt away the snow. See what blooms!

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