Tuesday, October 18, 2011

My dirty secret.

I've been wary of saying this publicly, but I think it's something I can't dance around anymore. So here it is:

I throw everything out at the end of each school year.

Lesson plans.

Actually, there are maybe half a dozen lesson that I'll keep from year to year- but I only keep the idea of the lesson, not the stuff attached to it.
I'm saying this for a simple reason: I've been bombarded for years with people trying to move stuff they've made from one format or platform to another, newer one. I usually try to help, and the efforts are usually messy and only partially successful. They always ask how I'm managing the transition, and I always say that I don't have the problem. I think they must assume that I have some secret method for reformatting my teaching resources, but the truth is more simple. I simply make new stuff, all the time.

I think it's because I bore so easily. I can't imagine re-using something I've already used. Or maybe it's because I believe that each year's students are fundamentally different than the last, and the things I'm using to teach should reflect that. Or it's that I believe that my job, as an educator, is partially to create content, and if I'm using content from years ago I'm shirking my duties.

Whatever it is, it keeps life good for me. I'm always solving new problems, always re-imagining how things should be presented, always looking for a better way. And I never have to deal with moving my stuff from one platform to another.



  1. This is an exceptional post. You are a great teacher. I've heard that great teachers chuck lesson plans each year and begin with new vigor, excitement and curricular. I, too, get bored easily. I try very hard to tailor my lessons to the students' needs and interests. Their body language speaks volumes. If they're bored, I try to change gears. Thanks for modeling great teaching.

  2. Thank you for sharing this! I teach in a very different alternative school where I cannot repeat a 9-week class for at least two years. Even when I ca reuse a course I typically start fresh. It keeps me on my toes and it allows me to always stay fresh. A few weeks ago I was visiting with a colleague who is still using lessons from when she started teaching 16 years ago. It's refreshing to hear another teacher who doesn't look at recreating materials like it is the most awful thing in the world.

  3. IdealIstic, extreme statement to make a point, bs, proacative, brilliant, stupid, unrealistic...

    I'm having a hard time knowing how to comment this post... Buy-in for the average teacher to use new methods is often built on the promise that the up-front investment will be recouped many times over as they reuse successful strategies, activities. I'm all for remixing, reevaluating, discarding - but I wonder if the presented view in this blog is realistic or practical.

    Each year shouldn't seem like Groundhog Day, but not only do I regularly rethink things but I also am proud to use the same tools and templates (until a better one presents itself) because reuse gives me time for further growth in other areas.

  4. I can't believe it! Most people are either hoarders or chuckers,and ALL my teacher friends (including me) are hoarders.THis year when I got my early retirement and came to teach in China I did a massive chuckout before I came,and I have found myself missing materials that I had hoarded for over 30 years!

  5. @shupester -- I think the take away from this post is that in order to be a relevant educator, in the context of a culture that is constantly changing, remixing, and evolving, we must keep up with our students. I don't think this is to say that every year we start from scratch, rather we blend elements of the old and the new from year to year and constantly ask ourselves, "Are my students walking away with relevant lessons, questions, and experiences from class? Are they learning something new? or something recycled?"

    My question for further discussion is how do we promote this type of thinking with our colleagues? How do we provoke change when the author of that change is complacent?

    Thanks for sharing, Tim.

  6. Brilliant honesty. I too recreate my courses every year. At first I blamed my organizational skills, or lack thereof, but soon I came to realize that my downfall was actually one of my greatest strengths. Yes, I reuse ideas, but I hate just replaying them. It's boring for me and I think unproductive for my students. Bravo for proclaiming that those of us who teach without the tabbed and labeled binders are somehow less capable than those who do.

  7. I think that there is a place for a blending of the old and the new. I do keep many, but certainly not all, of my lessons for possible future use. Often, I will skip a year or two before using a lesson idea again because it isn't a good fit for the next year's students. Often, I adapt the original to reflect my own learning and experiences since creating it.

    It may also be different for me because I teach elementary students and need to create lessons for four different subject areas. Some lessons do become my "go to" lessons on a topic and I can add to them each year.