I am a pack-rat. I hate to throw anything away. My cousins and I tease each other that this must be genetic because my grandmother saved EVERYTHING. I have a love/hate relationship with this part of my personality. On the one hand, the piles of boxes and books in my attic and office drive me crazy. On the other hand, I can usually find what I’m looking for and am glad that I still have whatever it is I’m trying to find.
This was true last week when we had our Christmas party at work. The party organizers thought it would be fun to have an “Ugly Sweater” contest, with a prize for the ugliest sweater. “You know, those tacky holiday sweaters everyone used to wear,” one of my colleagues explained. Yes. I did know. I still have one. (Okay, maybe two, but I swear my tackiest Talbots sweater, circa 1994, went to Goodwill at least a year ago.) In the days leading up to the party, conversations like this could be heard throughout the halls: “Do you have an extra sweater I can borrow?” or “Maybe you can find one at the thrift store.”
Happy to know I didn’t have to search for something to wear, I was faced with another dilemma. I like my sweater. I don’t think it’s ugly. That’s why I still have it. I was relieved to find out that other people agreed with me. (Although maybe they were just trying to be nice.) Still, I felt better when I saw my friend Cathy.
The winner of the contest didn’t have an ugly sweater, so she created one by raiding her Christmas decorations.
All this good-natured fun got me thinking, though. Even if my sweater wasn’t ready for the donation box, are there elements of my teaching that are? Am I clutching to an activity or practice just because I’ve always done it? I like to think that I’m reflective and objective about this, but I’m not sure. I definitely have favorite books and projects, but I also read new books and am always on the look out for ideas that will improve my teaching.
The truth is we get comfortable with materials and routines. It’s scary to change our practices and habits. But is this in the best interest of our students? When I talk with colleagues about lessons or activities, I always ask them, “How does this help our students grow as readers and writers?” If there isn’t a good answer to this question, then we have to let it go. By the same token, we shouldn’t be in a hurry to toss everything over for some shiny new program. If a practice is effective, we should keep it. We may need do some tweaking, but there’s a big difference between abandoning and modifying. We have to trust ourselves to make good decisions in this time of rampant change.
And don’t throw that sweater away. You never know when it will be exactly what you want to wear.
Thank you to everyone at Two Writing Teachers for sharing your slices. Your stories always give me new ideas to think about.