My kids do their own laundry - in theory. They each have hampers in their room, and they are supposed to take their clothes to the basement, ideally on a weekly basis, and wash, fold and put them away. In reality, this is what happens:
My son doesn’t use that many clothes. He will get to his laundry after about a month of build-up, and only because I hassle him until he does it. In my daughters’ shared closet, I found MOUNDS of dirty clothes hidden behind the hampers (they have 2), because the hampers were overflowing. The girls have a habit of wearing something and then throwing it on the floor, so that eventually, even if it wasn’t really dirty to begin with, it gets dirty. Inevitably, I have to step in at some point of the laundry process, usually the folding part.
So, yesterday, when I was folding a (thankfully) smaller load of the girls’ clean clothes, I couldn’t help but think that teaching is a lot like doing laundry, in these ways.
1. IT IS A JOB THAT IS NEVER OVER.
If there were one household job I would get rid of, it would be laundry. Even when I passed it on to my kids, I still end up doing some of theirs. I feel really accomplished when I do other household chores – when I clean the bathrooms, they smell good and sparkle for a while after. When I cook, we enjoy a meal. When I sweep, the floor stays clean for at least 2 days. When I do laundry, THERE IS ALWAYS MORE.
Teaching is exactly like this. When you think you have “finished”, don’t kid yourself – you never “finish”. You may finish planning and teaching a lesson, but there is always follow-up, or there are things to tweak for the next lesson. You might go home at 3 or 4 PM, which I try to do to be with my family, but the work is never done. You just have to find another time to squeeze it in. Just like washing clothes.
2. WHAT HAPPENS TO THE SOCKS?
When you wash clothes, if you don’t have a good system for keeping socks together, you will always lose one of the pair. I took this picture recently after trying in vain to pair my daughters’ socks (about half of which are mine, stolen from my sock drawer.) I posted the picture to Facebook, with the caption “What happens to the other sock?!?!?!” and got lots of amusing replies from friends.
If you don’t have a system or a plan for your students, you will lose them as well. Even the most organized students need a plan. I realized this once when my small, 4 person class told me that they didn’t know if they should put their papers in a binder or folder, and they didn’t know what to keep and what to recycle. I had spent so much time in September on getting to know each other activities, and I hadn’t focused enough on systems. I had never told them if they should use a binder or not. I just assumed they would decide what they wanted to use.
Meanwhile, the other ELL teacher, my colleague, had them keep a very structured binder. So, I stopped what we were doing, and we spent about 25 minutes getting them organized. In truth, I didn’t want to give them another binder to carry in their already packed backpacks. Instead, I have them binders and cleared a shelf so they could keep them in my classroom unless I told them to take them home. They were relieved at getting themselves more organized, and I learned a lesson about what I need to pay more attention to next year.
3. IF YOU BREAK IT DOWN INTO SMALLER STEPS, IT’S LESS OF A BURDEN.
Laundry is a more manageable task when broken down into steps. If I can get past the fact that I have to cart the clothes to my basement, the rest is not so hard. I find that if I can wash one day, fold the next, and then put the clothes away, it’s easier to get it done. Good teachers, I think, know that it usually works out better if we break down tasks for our students rather than throwing a huge project or assignment at them. I do the same thing when I plan, actually. I think of the “big idea” and work backwards from there in small steps, using backwards design.
4. EVEN IF YOU DO YOUR LAUNDRY “RIGHT”, THERE CAN STILL BE PROBLEMS.
A few weeks ago, my daughters did everything right when they did their laundry, and yet the clothes came out with black marks all over them for some reason. In teaching, you might have what you think is the bomb.com lesson plan, and it might seem perfect, and you think you worked out the kinks and anticipated every challenge – and it can STILL go very wrong. My first year as an ELL teacher, 4 years ago, I had a class of 7, and each student was from a different country. They got along horribly and there were lots of misunderstandings. I remember planning what I thought was an awesome lesson on friendship and respect that ended with the students arguing with each other. You know what they say about the “best-laid plans”!
5.DON’T TRY TO CARRY ALL YOUR CLOTHES IN YOUR ARMS.
I should know, I try to do this ALL the time to avoid taking more than one trip. What happen? Every time, without fail, I leave a trail of socks and underwear behind me. To me, the message here is: “Don’t bite off more than you can chew”. That goes for me as a person trying to not take on too many responsibilities. It also is important for me to remember as a teacher: don’t go too fast or present too much at once to your students, because you are bound to leave a trail behind you of confused and overwhelmed people. I try to remember this as I feel pressure to cover a certain amount of material, or to assign more homework and give more assessments. I need to keep all my clothes together in the laundry basket, just like I need to bring all my students with me, without leaving any behind.