It’s the last day of school–one of those pointless days that shouldn’t be on school calendars except the legislators who say “It’s not seat time that matters, it’s quality of learning.” Then, they mandate a 180-day school year.
So, we end up with this useless chunk of time at the bitter end. Exams are done, kids come anyway. I feel bad for them.
“Go to the beach.” I say. “Or the mall.” That’s where teens belong. Enjoy life before it starts sending you bills.
If they don’t go to the beach, I hope they get an awful summer job–one with a 16-year-old pimply boss that’ll mistreat them. They’ll realize the value of education, because all too soon they’ll be with me for another 180 days–one step closer to overpaying for college.
I look around my June room. “I’ll deal with this in August,” I say. It’s what I always say before I flee. This year will be different.
It’s purge time. At home, I’ve found my sock drawer, tool bench, and half the cellar. I’m ready to excavate my classroom.
Teachers are hoarders. Clutter’s been weighing on my soul. When was the last time I opened that drawer? The cabinet? Looked into that crevice? It’s mental constipation. A blockage long in need of a good, solid purge.
I started with stationery supplies earlier this year.
I gave away pens, pencils, and notebooks until I ran out–an entire cabinet–gone. “Sorry, I’m out.” A kid gasped.
“You don’t have…a pen?”
“Only my pen.”
“Can I have it?”
“No.” There are things a teacher doesn’t share. My own pen is one. Phone chargers are another. These are things–like loans–that never come back. I offer the kid a crayon. He declines. His friend donates a pencil. I say someone should buy a million pencils and sell them. They’ll make tons and won’t need that summer job.
Who uses pencils these days, anyway? Kids have phones and tablets. And no one wants my xerox copies from 2001.
I start tossing. Four filing cabinets, storage areas, the shelf.
I clear out a drawer. I find the key to the closet. No skeletons. Just dictionaries and old books. Dictionaries? We use Google. Gone!
I put two filing cabinets in the hall so paper can’t return. I’m gaining momentum. I call for another bin.
In two days, I’ve reduced fourteen years of junk to a few files of one copy each, “just in case.”
Thai and Chinese Buddha applaud. I’ve placed inspirations around my room–Buddha here, lotus there, an elephant, some calligraphy ink, Lord Ganesha on my desk, a couple of teapots, a Celtic cross, a windmill, a not-so-zen bell. I took the clapper out. Bells aren’t zen when students find them.
“Stay sane!” says Lord Ganesha. He’s near the Chinese scroll that says “Work first, relax later.” I asked the artist to paint “Do your damned homework,” but he was too polite.
Organizing’s hard for teachers. A day of teaching’s like playing dodgeball with your hands tied and twenty-eight kids tossing balls and a few rocks at your head.
“Throw it away!” says Chinese Buddha. “You don’t need that pile of papers. Freedom from clutter brings serenity to your soul.” He knows I’m about to save something “just in case.”
I obey. I throw out the pile. I feel better already. Energy pulses through my room, my mind.
“Simplicity is the heart of education. It is in being we learn about life, not things.” Thai Buddha chimes in. “Everything you need is in your mind.” He’s right. I can teach without a single handout.
“Empty your glass so it can be full,” says the teapot. I enjoy talking with the Buddhas and Lord Ganesha, but a teapot? It’s time for this day to end.
“You’ll write a new story next year.” Shodo ink speaks, too?
I think of schools where kids really do walk miles for their education, and learning occurs without supplies. Socrates didn’t have the Internet.
Bad papers and textbooks don’t make people passionate to learn. We had a text that dedicated two columns to World War I–approximately .0002 of a character and a few pixels for every human death. No kid learns that way.
Everything must go. I toss most of my grad school papers, keeping only my original research. That’s the stuff students love. “You can write about anything–and it counts. Just back it up!” I say.
I’m holding a baseball history paper written by my advisor. He’s the one who taught me history’s ours, not just about battles and victors of wars.
The real story’s in every one of our hearts–if we choose to write it.
I toss my “Philosophy of Education” paper. It’s something every new teacher is forced to write. I like what I’ve written. It’s about relationships. Connection. Making the impossible possible, proving everyone’s got a gift and a place to use it in the real world. Education is a magician taking the cape off the flowers.
Old me would’ve said, “You might need that.” New me knows I don’t need it, I’ve lived it. Thai Buddha gives me a high-five.
Two full recycle bins later, I feel the flow. Blockage from years of paper constipation is gone. My soul begins to rejoice. The custodian is not rejoicing, but I’ve apologized. He appreciates my efforts to be a better human being.
Still, I’m feeling guilty–I made two Buddhas happy, but I’ve killed half the rainforest.
I’m not sure I’m a better human being after all, but right now, I feel pretty darned good.
That, and a cup of coffee, makes me ready to hit the road.