Next we purchased some bookshelves off Craigslist and unpacked our many boxes of books. There were less surprises in those boxes, but it was nice to once again be able to see what we own and arrange them on our shelves, instead of keeping it all in storage.
Now we’re down to the file boxes. Ugh. Honestly, if they weren’t taking up space in the nursery, it would be really easy to just ignore the existence of those boxes. I counted out eight boxes alone that earned the label “teacher stuff”. Eight. Looking at my teaching career, I shouldn’t have that much stuff! But each time I moved some stuff stayed in storage while some came with me, and then I built up more and stored that, and it just added up over the years.
So yeah, eight boxes. Lesson plans from my first teaching job and every other full-time job I’ve had since. Classroom decorations. A box full of content from The Princeton Review. Random novels and teaching books scattered throughout. I had one box labelled “desk stuff” which I assumed would be the basic office-supply items and maybe some knickknacks. I opened it and discovered a stack of student papers (that had been on my desk) which I’d thought was worth keeping for some reason.
I’ve spent several afternoons sorting through those boxes, trying to consolidate it down to the necessities, and organizing it in a way that I may actually find what I need in the future. All the books are going into two designated boxes. Lesson plans, novel guides, and student samples in another box, classroom decor in another, and so on. I should be able to cut my number of “teacher stuff” boxes in half.
The biggest challenge has been the papers. So many papers! I’ve filled up two trash bags already, which of course begs the question, “why did I keep this stuff??”
I do remember some of my logic. Maybe I’ll teach this again, so I can use this worksheet/study guide/project idea again. Maybe I’ll use these student papers as artifacts in my portfolio. Maybe I’ll need to justify some student’s grade after I move away.
OK, that last reason is ridiculous. I’ve had plenty of questions about grades during a school year, but never after I’ve left a school. But those other reasons have some logic behind them, right? Building resources and documentation is not a bad thing. That being said, I don’t need nearly as much as I’ve kept and stored.
Sorting through it all has been an interesting trip down memory lane, though. Hits and misses, lessons I don’t remember assigning, and students whom I thought I’d never forget. I see how much I’ve grown, despite my hodgepodge career. It’s funny to see what I thought was worth keeping, what I thought I might use later. So much of it is absolutely useless. Some of the stuff is good, but I have digital copies of any assignment I wrote personally, so there’s no reason to hold on to paper copies, too. If I googled a lesson plan or worksheet in some teaching job several years ago, I’m much more likely to just google it again rather than go digging through my boxes to find it. And many of the lesson plans I used seven years ago scream “first-year teacher!” to my now-veteran eyes. I know more now about what works and what doesn’t. I understand students better and what will connect for them. So many of the lesson plans that I was so proud of seven years ago went in the trash yesterday.
I kept a little. I have a better sense now of what I may actually use again (study guides, tests, and writing rubrics, mostly). I do want to teach again, and until I know my future niche and class load, I can see the value of holding on to some of this. I also kept a few student artifacts for a portfolio, but not nearly as many as I thought I’d need and only one or two of each assignment, rather than a whole class’s worth.
While it’s been a hassle and half to sort through it all, it is nice to see how I’ve grown over the years. We talk about teens and young adults “growing up” like it’s a destination to be reached. When will they grow up? we ask. We impart advice for “when you grow up”. I know what we mean by that. “Growing up” implies taking the responsibility that comes with independence, supporting yourself through hard work, and being someone others can rely on. But despite that vague implication, I don’t think there’s a moment when someone is done “growing up” (except maybe in the wisdom of old age). We’re always learning, always growing. We’re never done.
The jobs I’ve loved the most have been the ones that challenged me to be better than I am, that pushed me to be the best teacher I can possibly be, instead of stagnating in complacency. I love being surrounded by teachers who are better than me, because they give me something to aspire to and work towards. They make me want to become better than I am.
No, I’m not holding on to old papers for the sake of nostalgia. Things I won’t use are going in the trash, and good riddance. However, in the process, it is nice to see my own transition and growth over the years outlined in such a tangible way.
Teens, this is the value of education – not simply the piece of paper that says you’ve accomplished something, or the opportunity to reach a certain social and professional status. It’s the process of learning itself, because even after you leave school, that process never ends. At least, it shouldn’t, but after school your growth depends on you. Not a teacher, parent, or boss. You. Are you willing to actively learn as you go through life? Are you independent enough to reflect on your own mistakes and take the lessons they have to offer, even when no one else tells you to? Will you challenge yourself to always become better in whatever you do? Or will you let yourself fall into a rut of never growing?
By all societal accounts, I’m “grown up”. I’m 29 years old, married for seven (almost eight) years, teaching for nearly as long, with a baby on the way. I pay my rent, car loans, and other bills, support my husband in his life and work, and take care of my home. I’m an independent, responsible, professional adult. And I’m still learning and growing. It’s awesome.