Monday, August 10, 2015

Downsizing south of the border

I'm on vacation with my family right now. We're staying with my mother-in-law (MIL), who is a teacher in Maryland. Every year around this time, I have some sort of related reflection for my blog. Last year, it was comparing Canadian education to American eating establishments. The year before, it was Maryland's tax-free week for buying back to school items.

This year's theme is downsizing. My MIL has changed grades and rooms, even though I suspect she is coming close to the end of her teaching career. (This will be her 29th year of teaching.) Her assignment for 2015-16 is teaching pre-K (our version of Junior Kindergarten). Although it will be a big change, she's looking forward to several aspects, like the absence of standardized tests (because they start in Grade 1 here) and the extra adult support combined with the class size cap (with no more than 20 students and both a para-educator and volunteer parent with her at all times). It has been a real challenge for her to limit the amount of supplies, books, toys, puzzles and other resources she wants to purchase. She is accustomed to buying what she needs for her class. We've been helping her set up her classroom and clean her basement. She's accumulated a LOT of things over her many years of teaching that she no longer needs. We have twelve boxes to take to the used book store and an ungodly amount of garbage bags of items destined for Goodwill. I'm doing my part by taking a large collection of Lego back with me to use in my STEM / Makerspace area of my Library Learning Commons.

New carpet, courtesy of her school.

Her class reading nook - 95% her own purchases.

It's hard to downsize in education - and I'm not talking about the terrible downsizing of teaching staff due to reduced enrollment, or cut budgets that are still supposed to provide the most up-to-date technology. I like buying and bringing back new trinkets and decorations to incorporate into my class. Here in the United States, their "teacher stores" are plentiful and glorious - filled with gorgeous posters, activities and teacher treasures. This time around, I couldn't resist getting a new bulletin board border set, a marble construction set, some cute castanets for teaching kindergarten music, a bigger timer while I was there. I didn't really NEED all these things. After all, less can be more. It's better for students to create the resources, isn't it? After all, the all-kindergarten school in TDSB deliberately discouraged pre-bought posters and built rooms with white walls so the focus would be on student art. They have resources, but are particular about what kind they obtained. How much of these things do we really need? I remember reading this article on teaching overseas from ETFO Voice magazine. A quote from Shamim Murji resonates when I think about what we "need" to teach:
We take for granted the resources we have in Canada. I remember sitting in my classroom the first day of September, after my project in Liberia. I was grateful for the roof over my head and the windows in my classroom.” It is a common refrain that the PO experience changes the way you look at the educational environment.
 There is an exception to bucking the materialistic trend by minimizing - downsizing a library collection, a.k.a. weeding, always has to be accompanied by accumulating new books. There are new titles, by new authors, waiting to be discovered and it would be a shame that some writers aren't discovered because "I have enough books already". While I'm here in America, I'm reading for the Canadian Children's Book Centre "Best Books for Kids and Teens". There are some great new books that my students will really enjoy.Excluding books, I'll try harder to simplify my professional life and not fill it with objects that I will need to give away when I get close to retirement - but chances are I'll still be bringing back a little something special each summer after visits to Lakeshore Resources.

(I'll try to add some photos to this post after we do some more cleaning.)

1 comment:

  1. I totally understand. I moved classrooms this year, and threw a truly ungodly amount of stuff out! And that was before I gave up, due to time limits, and simply packed up my file boxes to move as they were (more work for that last week before school). It is astounding what we accumulate, and then feel the need to keep, "just in case".

    I happened upon a yard sale this summer where it was obvious a retiring teacher had simply put EVERYTHING into boxes as she left the classroom, and re-assembled it in the driveway. I scored a class set of big-kid scissors, and resisted a great many other things.

    Would be interesting to look at what drives us to be such pack rats, I think. :)