“Are you moving rooms next year?” Shannon, my colleague down-the-hall, asked me on Friday. I’d been scurrying around before school that morning, packing boxes out to my car.
“Oh no. Just getting ready for the end of the year,” I said.
“Why do you take down these posters every year if you just have to put them back up in August?” Jenna, my sophomore master of pragmatism, asked me later that day.
“Have I not taught you the value of ritual yet?” I said.
Jenna rolled her eyes.
Barring unforeseen circumstances, I will probably be holding forth in Room 303 at Lafayette high school for the rest of my teaching career. I love that room. From its roof top vantage point, I can see all the way to downtown Lexington. With three huge windows that look out over a little courtyard, sunrises from the east flood the room on dark winter mornings.
So why do I pack up every single May like I’m leaving the profession?
Because teachers should never, ever, ever settle. Into a classroom. Into a curriculum. Into a rut. Into a single way of teaching.
Of course, teachers should adopt instructional practices and management strategies that are consistent, proven, and experience tested. But ongoing reflection demands ongoing revision. We are tweakers, on the move, educational bedouins, sitting up provisional camps in all kinds of unlikely psychological territories.
During my first year of teaching, I heard my principal describe a teacher in my building as someone who “taught her first year twenty-seven years in a row.” I vowed to never be that teacher. Conventional wisdom says it takes three years for a beginning teacher to hit her stride. I think teaching is a science and a craft that takes at least ten years to figure out what you’re doing, then ten more years to become sufficiently accomplished. Then your gig is almost up.
For me, taking everything down at the end of the year signals this year is over. I tried my best. I failed with some students; I succeeded with others. I knocked some lessons out of the park; I missed the ball completely with others, but I didn’t sit still. I grew, I learned. Packing up the room, boxing up books, taking down posters is an external ritual for an internal measurement. The ritual signals the end of a cycle, which promises the beginning of another one.
I’m packing it in for this year because I’m moving on to different territory next year even though I’ll be in the same room. That different territory will be new students, new chemistries, new dynamics, new lessons, newly-imagined delivery systems for the old conceptual verities.
When I walk back into this same classroom in August, the walls will be bare, the technology will be a tangled mess on my desk, all the chairs will be crammed against one wall, and I will take a deep breath and start assembling. New year, new students, fresh start. I will be thinking about every student who will sit in those chairs. What’s the best arrangement this year? What’s the best book for that kid? What’s the best way to illustrate this concept or that? Every year is different. Every class is different. Every kid, every day.
In this pleasant, creative, energetic environment that I have hopefully and expectantly created, I say Welcome. Enter in, ye students o’ mine. No year yet will be exactly like this one. I have made this new space just for you.