It’s the groan heard around the teaching world: “Classroom cleanup time… ugh!”
Now that your students have headed home for the summer – stripping your classroom walls of artwork and assignments – there’s nothing left to hide the fact that you have…
- Too much stuff
- Crammed into too many places
- That you’ll probably never use
- And have been avoiding getting rid of for years!
Except for brand-new teachers, most of us are suffering under the burden of too much clutter. So what are we supposed to do? Well, my best advice is this:
“A project begun is a project done” I like to say.
We all know that we have to make a commitment to get started, so I’m going to skip that reminder. But I will say you need to leave yourself plenty of time to work through this process. Plan on a solid week of work if you’ve been in your classroom for a decade or so, although you’ll be spreading the time out over a month or two.
Ready? Brave smile in place? Let’s go!
Step one: pick the low-hanging fruit
Before getting down to grunging out a single closet, it’s always best to make a sweep through every area of your room and toss the stuff that you hardly have to think about doing without. Wheel in the custodian’s big garbage can and designate a spot out in the hallway (not in your room!) for giveaway items.
Then start at your front door and work clockwise. No item is too small for consideration, but if you find yourself agonizing too much, put it down and keep going. If it’s garbage such as old papers, pencils, etc., then those decisions are easy. For the rest – for this first pass – use the rule of thumb that if you have not used it in three years, it goes.
Done with step one? Good! Apologize to your janitor for filling up his garbage can and get those giveaway items out of the building. Unless you specifically know that another teacher wants something (as in, she’s told you in the past that she wants it) just move that stuff on out to Goodwill or your favorite charity.
I’m serious about this! It can be very tempting to assuage our feelings of loss by trying to place our giveaways with other people. When we do that, we feel almost as if we’re not really getting rid of something. But come on… let’s not add to another teachers’ stress by spreading our excess items to other classrooms.
Move it on out!
Step two: zero in on focus areas
Now that you’ve cleared away the first layer, it will be much easier to dive into those individual closets, cubbies and filing cabinets.
For the last step, we used the “three-year” rule. Now we’re going to consider the remaining items in the light of an even tougher standard.
We all know that our curriculum and teaching expectations are changing constantly, and they very rarely change back to something we did before. So instead of just considering whether you used something recently, you need to think about your current and upcoming curriculum and decide if the resources in your room even comes close to fitting in with something you will be expected to teach.
Leave the things that you know for certain will be used. For anything else that you are hesitant about, put it into a big box.
On the outside of the box, write “give away or throw away in one year” and put the date on it. This box will serve as your “recycle bin” just like on your computer. It’s like throwing things away but knowing that you can still get them back if you made the wrong decision.
I highly recommend keeping this box at your house and not in your classroom. And put that “permanent delete” date on your calendar as well. If one year goes by and you’ve not had to dig back into that box for something, the entire thing goes. Hopefully, you’ll only have to pluck one or two items out of it, leaving plenty for your charity (or garbage collector) to handle on your behalf.
This is not an easy step. Is particularly difficult when you get to your lesson-planning resources. I could make a big pitch here for going digital with your worksheets and handouts, but I’ll leave that up to you. However, I will say that folders filled with worksheets and lesson plans are subjected to the same criteria as old markers and decorations; those folders go into the same “recycle bin” and suffer the same fate if they cannot prove their worth in a year’s time.
Step three: Start with a fresh, new look!
Congratulations! I know it was very difficult. But now it’s time to celebrate with some fresh new decorations for the first day of school.
Treat yourself by not pulling out the first-day things you’ve been putting up for the last few years. Keep it clean and simple while going in a new direction.
Don’t hesitate to move things around a bit. Mix up those desks if necessary and choose your cute and efficient labels, alphabets strips, etc. Just don’t go overboard… we don’t want to plant the seeds of another classroom cleanout next summer!