Letting Go of the Past

In my ongoing attempt to fit into our down-sized home, I’m constantly looking for things to throw out so everything can finally be put away out-of-the-way. Although I still have way more books than anyone needs, I’m not willing to throw one away until I’ve read it. If you’ve visited over the long haul you’ll remember one of my goals when I started this blog was to finally read all the books I bought in college and during those years when I was so busy teaching literature that I didn’t have time to read literature. I’ve managed to get rid of a lot of books, but I’m not sure I’ll ever get through all of them, and it seems sacrilegious to throw away any book that’s not moldy before you’ve read it.

All of the easy stuff has long since been discarded, so now I’m down to having to discard things with real sentimental value. Needless to say, that has slowed things down considerably. I finally decided it was time to start throwing away old yearbooks, at least the yearbooks I collected the 17 years I was teaching newspaper and yearbook. I could badly use the shelf space to store my camera equipment.

Ironically, the first yearbook I took off the shelf to consider throwing away happened to be precisely the one with a message from a student who recently made my day/week/year by sending me a short email thanking me for “having such a great influence on my life,” going on to say that she was the first person in her family to go to college, much less go to law school.

I have had students come back the first couple of years after they’ve graduated, but messages like this are rare, indeed. In fact, one of the hardest things for me as a teacher was to see kids leave after being in my class two or three years never to hear from them again, never knowing if they had succeeded in their goals or not.

So when I re-read the student’s message in my yearbook I really questioned if I wanted to throw it away or not, even though I’ve probably looked at it twice in the 33 years since I let yearbook and newspaper students write in it. Needless to say, I ended up reading all the messages that students had written over the years even though it took most of a day to do so. Doing so reminded me why I had put up with the stress of advising newspaper and yearbook for so many years.

There’s really no such thing as “freedom of the press” in a high school, and you don’t want to become a newspaper or yearbook advisor unless you’re ready for public and administrative criticism. I certainly had my share of that over the years and even resigned the position for several years because I didn’t like and didn’t trust my principal. Eventually I relented and took the yearbook back when a former administrator asked me to do so. I didn’t do it as a favor to the administrator; I did it because they were my favorite classes to teach.

I liked working alongside kids rather than talking down to them. We had a real product that to be produced in real-time and we, as a team, were responsible for producing the best product we could. It seemed an awful lot like coaching a team. Best of all I got to know those kids better than the kids who sat in my classroom for a semester or a year listening to me lecture or lead a discussion where I was lucky to be able to call on a student twice a week.

Even after 33 years, I could remember almost all the kids that were in either my newspaper or yearbook class. For a good part of a day I was almost sentimental, a feeling I seldom indulge.

I ended up recycling four of the yearbooks, four that for some reason had no student comments in them. It was an easy decision. Unfortunately, I have ten others sitting on the floor in my room trying to decide if I should just dump them now that I’ve read all the comments (after all I won’t be around in another 33 years), whether I should copy the comments and store them on my computer where they take up little space, or whether I should put them back on the shelf.

No wonder my den/office never seems to get cleaned up.