Today I spent hours cleaning out one of my filing cabinets, a task that has been long overdue and which is, for me, oddly satisfying. I love getting rid of old things that I no longer use. It’s like weeding the garden and suddenly being able to see organized rows where before there had been only chaos. It’s why, as I recently justified to my husband, I let housework get so far behind: it’s so satisfying to see a stark difference rather than only a slight improvement.
The cleaning of my files brought home the unexpected realization that I have now become one of those older teachers who has drawers filled with outdated, blurry worksheets with no discernible purpose or redeeming qualities. The opening of each file in the cabinet revealed another layer of the onion of the teacher I used to be. Why did I save an entire file on penguins? Did I ever plan thematic units on topics such as soil based on all the possible art, music, social studies and math connections? Or what about one whole file folder dedicated to “bulletin boards”? I still had papers I’d written in college, and even “activity” ideas that I’d inherited from a retiring teacher as I began my career almost 20 years ago. One index card was so wrinkled and coffee-stained I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away, despite the fact that it recorded the words to a song I had no idea how to sing.
Reading through the files brought back memories (and actual parent notes and classroom newsletters) of previous years, and I suddenly began to remember that teacher I used to be. People I used to work with, students I’d taught, plans I’d written, notes I’d taken in workshops and articles I’d clipped and taped together. There’s so much that I wasn’t aware that I didn’t know. Ignorance was bliss.
Sandra Cisneros has written about the years of our lives layering upon each other like the skin of an onion. In her short story “Eleven”, she discusses being eleven, and that when you turn eleven underneath you’re still 10 and 9 and 8 and 7 and 6 and 5 and 4 and 3 and 2 and 1. But all people see is the eleven-year-old you. All of us are like that. Even though the teacher/coach I am now feels like a fully-formed, independent person, I’m really just a composite of all those versions of me that came before. A mosaic of experiences, spread out on an office floor, or piled in an office trashcan waiting to be recycled.
Every once in a while it’s good to dig beneath the surface and revisit that earlier version of ourselves, if only to see how far we’ve come.