Today marks my last week at the middle school level. It’s bittersweet, really but let’s journey a bit back so I can really premise why it’s important to start and leave with a clean slate.
This is what I saw the first day at WCMS. Needless to say, if you know me, this was stressful. The previous teacher hoarded everything (what art teacher doesn’t) so the paint dating back 50 years put me over the edge. The image of the room was clearly still hers so I had a lot of work ahead of me. Thankfully, I had the summer.
Que summer clearning.
And this is what it looked like my first year. It still wasn’t mine. But it was getting there. Oh how I wish I had a clean slate to start with but after putting in weeks of work, I settled for what I could. You could clearly see the OCD difference in the room.
And after three years, the room finally became mine. I had handmade posters, signage, and a use of visual space where ever I could. But then it came time to leave this little home, my home away from home, as it were. And it originally broke my heart to see all the work I had done just kind of hang there, wondering what would happen next.
But, after a good night’s rest, I remembered how frustrated I was that I entered this classroom with it looking as if kids had just left and a clearly unorganized approach to all the supplies. I wanted whoever was taking over to have something I didn’t have…a clean slate. No, I didn’t clear everything out and I didn’t un-organize my organization. The closet is still spotless and the draws are still organized but the room? As of today, is officially blank. The cupboards have been gooed-to-the-gone as my 8th graders call it, the posters are down, my posters are down, the cabinets are unlabeled, the dry erase board is blank, bulletins are removed, table signs are gone, the tables are cleared…it’s a blank slate.
Why? Because I remember.
I remember when students would say “but that’s not the way _____ did it” and get upset because things were different. At the same time, they still saw reminders (signage) of their previous teacher which pulled them back to the past rather than with me in the present. I remember coming home with “remember it’s not personal” on repeat in my head because students still saw their previous teacher in my room…she had left so much undone that it was a hard transition. I’m not saying my first year was terrible, because it wasn’t but I was one-too-many-times compared to the previous teacher and for any teacher, that’s tough. And in moderation, manageable, of course, but doesn’t mean it’s fun to deal with. And most teachers can relate…you grin and bear it but that doesn’t mean when you change positions, that you can’t make it easy for your replacement.
I remember wanting blank walls and a clean slate because that meant I could turn it into my own world. And eventually, after a full summer of cleaning, a mid year remodel, and many extra hours, I turned it into my world. But it was a long process and after talking with my students, I know the hard time they are having with change (I am not the only teacher leaving). Students are saying they will not like the new teacher because they aren’t me – and while that could be considered cute (and I appreciate their love), I put the kabosh on it right away and explained that that way of thinking is not fair to the new teacher.
So as a team, all of my students and I decided a clean slate would be best. My 7th and 8th graders helped the most with cleaning, but we decided taking all the things off the wall would help our new family member have the best chance at starting something wonderful and new. When they return next fall, they won’t have much reminding them whose room it used to be, but have an entirely new approach to the set up. Of course, they will remember me and I will always remember them (and plan to visit) but it’s a professional courtesy to give your replacement the best shot in the classroom. And of course, some students, who I have worked closely with, will struggle with the change but with a clean slate, it will be easier. So hopefully not only does my replacement appreciate it, but my students have chance to transition easily into a new environment.
My new school will be somewhat of a clean slate thanks to a remodel this summer but I can’t get in until the first day of school! At which point I have to unpack all the supplies and organize the room – eek, it’s like 2010 all over again but ya know what? I am completely thrilled by the new challenges and adventures coming my way. I only hope you enjoy them when they start to unravel.