Recently, it was the last official day of spring classes at work. We only get a week off before summer session, so it’s nothing like the end of the school year is for children and college students.
As part of our final spring semester day, we did our traditional end of the year clean. The school I work in is unique in that it is housed in an actual house that the organization purchased about eight years ago. People regularly comment on the cozy, home-like atmosphere of our school, and our students often say it is like another family for them.
However, like regular homes, the school seems to have its share of clutter, junk, dust, and formerly loved but now forgotten items. My classroom in particular, being a main walkway, and in the basement, has acquired an awful lot of abandoned stuff and dust over the years I have worked there. Most of it isn’t mine; I’m not one to have tons of things around that I don’t use. But this year, the task came upon my class to clean the room, and so we decided to really have at it.
What I found so amazing, as one of my students and I pulled old files out of the two cabinets in our room, is how quick things become dated. Much of the materials in the top drawers were from the teacher I replaced just five years ago. She had been an elementary teacher, and then slid into adult ESL, a common path often fraught with issues of translation for the teacher in question. I pulled several files to find grammar worksheets from the mid-1980s, complete with already perforated edges and punch holes — very similar to that old dot-matrix copy machine paper, if you remember that. I also removed a small, book-like object that turned out to be an alphabet chart. I opened it up and saw the date on it — 1972 — and my student said, “Oh, very old.” For a moment I thought about saving it, but the paper had just yellowed too much and it really didn’t look like something that would go on a wall anymore, which is how it must have been used in the past.
We have had a television on a cart in the classroom since I started there. I have used it a few times over the years, but not all that much. It has a built-in VCR — great technology in, say, 1994 — but now it’s almost useless. Our textbook series come with CDs and DVDs, and the few learning tapes I have are at too high a level for most of the students I regularly have. Oh, and we don’t have a digital converter box, so after Friday, the thing is basically a paperweight in the classroom.
A few years ago, I went through a period where I loved to use flip charts. It was so useful to keep a written record of answers and ideas students had about particular topics. We would spend several weeks studying jobs, or housing, or education, or civics, and I’d keep a running tab of work we could flip back to during the weeks of study. However, I’m not the only teacher to use the classroom, and it seems that the flip chart was “in the way” for others. So after attempts to move it around the room a bit, I stopped using it. Today I found two old pads from those days: many tall sheets of paper covered with writing about past classes. And dust, lots of dust. And wrinkles from being folded, sometimes several times. I may return to flip charts if I continue teaching, but for now, the old ones got tossed.
If all of this doesn’t remind one of the impermanence that fills our lives, I don’t know what will. I do believe we need to make better, longer lasting materials — especially when it comes to electronics. But at the same time, things like that old alphabet chart — there’s nothing much that could be done to preserve that for years on end. That it made it this far along, getting used until it was almost 30 years old, is a testament to the resourceful teacher that had used it.
For some reason, all this reminds me of a pair of lines from Chinese Zen Master Shitou’s poem Song of the Grass-Roof Hermitage: “Let go of hundreds of years and relax completely/Open your hands and walk, innocent.”
As I sorted and tossed, sorted and tossed, I felt my hands opening and closing hundreds of times over a short period of time. Isn’t much of our life like that, opening and closing and opening again to what’s in the moment? Shitou’s reminder is that we don’t need to hold onto any of it, not even the opening and closing of the heart.
“Classroom” Frank Juarez @ Flickr. com. Creative Commons. Some Right Reserved.
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