Sunday, October 12, 2008

What Not To Teach

One of my favourite shows is “What Not To Wear”. While it begins in a negative fashion, if you’ll excuse the pun, it does demonstrate to the victim –err, subject- what it is that they should be wearing. They end up with a wardrobe that is functional, practical and easy to wear. They use their 3-way mirror to allow the fashion gurus to clearly illustrate what look good and what does not. They demonstrate what does not fit, and which pieces simply do not fit in with the victim’s personal and professional goals. I began making a connection: thinking that the hardest part of my job is figuring out “what not to teach”.

There are reams of materials. Jamie McKenzie calls the Internet the “greatest garage sale in cyberspace.” The plethora of materials available to the teacher overwhelms most of us. Most of the time I try to figure out what it is that I should throw away, rather than searching for new materials. This parallels “What Not To Wear”, since many of the victims have closets full of articles of clothing they have not worn in years.

My curriculum closets are outdated and need to be tossed, but, as many of us know, there might be a time we could reduce, re-use or recycle. I am a pack rat. I admit it. I would appreciate a Stacy or Clinton-type who could, thoughtfully, point out what I might throw out. I offered a friend some of my materials and she jokingly suggested that if she brought home yet another book, resource or found material her husband might divorce her! Stacy and Clinton do a marvelous job of convincing folks just how they look, but the beauty of the show is in how they show them what they should be wearing. I believe that education should be held up to the same light. Most people have boxes full of resources, much of the time they need to figure out what not to teach. What is important to keep and what should be left behind?

Precipitated by a grade-level change, I decided that rather than hoarding all these precious materials I needed to have a garage sale in my staff-room. What a pleasure to pass on materials to colleagues who may use them. I began a serious clean-out and mercilessly tried to junk things I had not used in a year. I recalled the HGTV shows that featured pack-rats who had not cleaned out their closets in 25 years. I sorted through my junk and created three piles: “to sell”, “to junk: and “to keep”. This was most difficult. Found materials are like gold to teachers. We are always thinking of the next Art lesson, or the next science experiment. I find it difficult to pass by garage sales. You just never know what you will need!

Similarly, “new” teachers need to establish a basic portfolio of supplies and materials, which will stand them in good stead no matter which grade they teach. All teachers should gather materials on basic celebrations or events such as Remembrance Day, Pagan celebrations such as Hallowe’en and other November and December Holiday Traditions. Valentine’s Day is such a treat, Random Acts of Kindness week brings out the best in us. Flag Day and Spring activities keep us hopeful for a turn in our weather. There really are only two seasons in Canada: bugs and snow, and I do not spend a great deal worrying about the others! Great events, on a four year cycle are great fodder for ideas: The Olympics and Election 2006 were great sources of inspiration. I have found that many of my materials are transferable to different ages and stages. Both elections and the Olympics come around every four years or so- both are wonderful opportunities for literacy and numeracy activities. I keep all of my activities in a box- to be hauled out for the next time, but save them to my electronic files, as well. Six changes in program, schools or principals in my first six years mean that I have to depend upon myself for keeping something constant in my curriculum!

Many of my colleagues have cupboards packed in classrooms across the province. Many of my colleagues have spouses that want to frisk them before they come home on Saturday, garage sale day! I hope that you can clean out your closets and send your unwanted or underused materials to colleagues who can use them. There are a variety of places who have faced natural and human-made disasters. Many agencies could use our materials.

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