Getting Rid of Teaching Practices That Don’t Work4 min read

 We had a garage sale at my house this week because stuff piles up over the years and my wife said we “have too much junk.” But when I saw what she had out in the driveway for sale, I was shocked! “Honey, this isn’t junk! You can’t sell this painting! We bought that our first year of marriage!”

“We can’t sell the crib, our babies lived in that thing.”

“Not my wakeboard! I got that in high school!”

But my wife, almost always the voice of reason, replied “We bought that painting 10 years ago. It doesn’t match our style at all anymore. And the kids are in beds now; the crib takes up too much space. And what do you need a wakeboard for, you’re a teacher, you don’t have a boat!”

I mean, she has a point. But I have an emotional connection to these things, even if I don’t need them anymore. It can be hard to move on and part with them.

Garage Saling Teaching Practices

This has got me thinking about teaching and the need to get rid of practices and tools that need to be slapped with a 25 cent sticker and put out on the driveway. What is it in your teaching practice that needs a garage sale? What might have been useful at one point, or maybe was useful for you when you were a student, but might not be working anymore; might be time to get rid of? For me, it was the long 45 minute lecture. When I was kid, this was primarily how I was taught. Even though I usually hated sitting in those classes, sitting still as the teacher droned on, this is what teaching was to me. And so I started off teaching by spending a lot of time giving lectures.

And to be honest, I’m pretty good at it. I love giving them. I have no problem talking for 45 minutes, especially when I’m interested in what I’m talking about. But I saw time and time again, no matter how much I enjoyed speaking to students, after about 15 minutes kids would start to nod off. It’s nearly impossible to captivate students for long lectures, and so it becomes a waste of time. And there is a lot of research to prove that. So even though I had this history with, and emotional connection to giving long lectures, I had to get rid of them at the garage sale.

This meant shortening direct instruction to make it more effective, doing more collaboration, discussion-based learning, projects, more student-ownership- less Trevor/Teacher-ownership of the learning. And you know what? Students started learning and engaging more. But getting rid of an ineffective practice, I was creating space for ones that actually worked. Just like how the walls of my house now have more space for newer, fresher artwork.

I want to challenge you to think about what in your teaching practice needs a garage sale. Maybe you’re grading too much because you’ve always been told to grade everything students submit, but it’s burning you out. You can’t deal with the piles of papers on the weekend anymore. And so it’s time to garage sale that practice, and be more selective of what you grade.

Maybe there’s a lesson or activity that just isn’t working like it used to, and you’ve known this for a while now, and it’s time to retire it.

Maybe you’ve set your room up a certain way for a long time, and it’s time to try something else.

Maybe you need to garage sale that pressure you put on yourself to be a perfect teacher, because that just isn’t working anymore and you need to put that energy into more useful areas.

I think as educators, we’re so often given new ideas and new strategies to get better at what we do, but we don’t have space for them. There’s got to be room to grow, and sometimes that means making that room by discarding practices that aren’t working like they use to, or never worked and you are finally realizing that.

Just like selling the recliner in the basement that nobody ever even sat in.

Oh and good news- nobody bought my wakeboard. Now I just need to find a friend with a boat.

Trevor Muir

I believe every student has the potential for greatness. And I believe every educator can be equipped to unlock that potential.