I’ve been in the classroom for thirteen years. And, in those years, I have accumulated a lot of…stuff. I have games and cards for curriculum I haven’t taught in many years. I have boxes filled with files that speak of units past. I have workbooks and textbooks, long since retired, that no longer correspond to the math that I (or anyone in the state for that matter!) teach. I have hundreds of labeled bags filled with measured out amounts of random items – pennies, pipe cleaners, little foam blocks – all used for math labs that are now curricular dinosaurs.
For years, I’ve carted around more than a dozen file boxes filled with these materials. I held onto them at first because I trusted that the educational pendulum would swing back and I would again be responsible for the teaching of polynomials and imaginary numbers. But with each election and each testing mandate, the chances became more and more slim that those topics would again trickle down to the middle school level.
But even as I let go of the notion of teaching these units again, I still held on to the boxes. Because those boxes held more than just paper and plastic; they contained the years that I considered my best in the classroom.
For a few precious years, I had the perfect storm in education: great curriculum, great class sizes and great students. By holding on to those boxes, I was holding on to the idea that the perfect storm may brew again and I could teach higher-level concepts to small groups of hard working kids. Every time I would move or sort through those boxes, I would grow sad, reminiscing about what was and what was no longer. The newer units didn’t hold the same appeal, not because they were worse but because the older ones were rose-tinted with memory, idealized in time. And with the old taking up permanent residence in my classroom, it was impossible not to compare.
I finally realized this year that keeping those boxes in my classroom is pretty much the equivalent of keeping my old wedding photos on my wall.
It’s amazing the mental choreography we will create to attempt to rationalize grasping on to the old. We pretend that we may need it again in some, as yet, unknown future. Anxiety and worry speaking the language of “what ifs” in order to keep us prisoner to the detritus of our pasts. We claim that it serves as a reminder of the good times, even though its presence dulls the new. We allow memory and hope to create value where there is none and, even worse, waste energy and other resources on lugging around the boxes, both real and metaphorical, from our former lives.
So this morning, I sorted through thirteen years of lessons and saved projects. I filled recycle bins and garbage bags and re-gifted the plastic tubs to a new home.
It’s a little scary.
But you can’t reach the next rung until you’re willing to release the last.
And it’s also freeing.
Letting go always is.
Because it’s only in releasing our grasp on the past that we are able to fly towards our future.