25 July 2009

Empty Nest

Every teacher has at least one drawer or file box of blood, sweat, and tears: the hard copies of articles, activities, and ephemera collected from conferences or constructed over countless summers and Sundays. Sure, we have electronic versions of many things, too, but there is something about the physical representation of the work. Those manila file folders are sometimes the only evidence we have for hours of toil.

But what does a teacher do with these collections at retirement? Or the change of a grade level or subject area? Or other change of job assignment? We're not willing to throw away these files---we know how much thought and care was taken to bring them into the world. And yet, having these items molder away in a basement is hardly a fitting end, either.

My classroom stuff has been in just such a limbo for some time now. I have felt guilty every day as I head into and out of my garage. I thought I could hear those files whimpering to be used again...how unfair it was to keep them cooped up and away from kids. And yet, I wasn't sure about where I might end up jobwise. I had a "just in case" excuse I kept in mind, knowing full well that even if I went back to the classroom, lessons would need remodeling.

This week, it was finally time to let things go. There was a passle of science teachers at an event I attended this week. I took seven boxes of books I had accumulated over the years---only two boxes worth went unclaimed by teachers. I found a teacher who is just about to start teaching AP Bio for the first time---and I gave her my files: lock, stock, and barrel. I gave away bulletin board supplies, posters, and other items. Not only did I regain some nice space in my garage, I also let these items have the opportunity for new life in classrooms all over the state. I feel like part of my teaching life is living on, even as I explore other job opportunities.

The nest is not completely empty. There were a few things I wasn't quite ready to part with and I am sure that there are others hiding in boxes I didn't open last week. But there will be other groups of teachers I see and other opportunities to gift some treasures. Oddly enough, I don't feel a loss as evidence of my classroom life ebbs away---I feel richer for having shared.

5 comments:

Michaele said...

I *had* to pare down when the military moved my husband and our family out of Alaska, where I had taught for ten years, in the same grade, at the same school! It was tough, choosing absolute essentials to take with me from the piles and boxes of materials, books, and teaching goodies that I had never once dreamed I'd have to part with.

It was the best thing that could have happened to me. I am so much more organized, and though I'm probably much more cautious than necessary each time I dig and sort through what I have left, I understand that materials I haven't used in several years also need to to be passed on to make the most of themselves and their purpose...and to make room for the new essentials I always seem to acquire!

organized chaos said...

So glad to know it's not just me. Sadly, my storage place is currently my car (which makes it convenient if I have to run go get some files or read-alouds) but it's ridiculous. I park my car in downtown DC and watch people peer in at my math manipulatives, well-labeled boxes of "word families", "worms, the water cycle, and clouds", and "doubles plus one games".

The Science Goddess said...

I worried about looking like some sort of shady "dealer" as some teachers perused items from the trunk of my car. I kept waiting for the police to show up. So, I can only imagine the looks as people "tourist" your car. :)

Hugh O'Donnell said...

The teacher who took my classroom and courses was the happy beneficiary of more clutter than I could hope to keep track of.

I love maps, so I kept my plastic-protected collection. Of course, they're obsolete as long as we have electricity to power Google, but if the lights go out, I can find my way most anywhere. :)

Gotta say, though, there's relief in letting go...

Roger Sweeny said...

I find it really hard to throw things out. But if I think I'm giving them a good home ...