Opinion
Education Opinion

Collecting

By Hanne Denney — February 20, 2006 2 min read

I can’t help myself, I’m a collector. I don’t buy “collectibles”. But I am a bit of an archaeologist, always looking at the ground to see what might be lying there. I’m a collector because I like to find things.

This weekend I took my husband to the beach – Ocean City, Maryland. It’s cold and windy and there are not many people here. It’s lovely. I went for a walk on the beach, and just couldn’t help myself. I started picking up seashells.

I knew my husband would laugh at me, because I have seashells at home from every trip we’ve ever taken to any beach. There’s something about seeing them lying on the sand, or in the surf. They are free, and they are beautiful, and they feel good to the touch, and they remind me of a happy time. So I pick them up, and keep them.

I knew he would smile when he saw me walk in with a bag of shells, so I was trying to think of a way to justify my new collection. When I taught young children, seashells could be used for lessons on sorting items by size and color, tied into story books with beach stories, or as an artifact for our science table. So what can I do for high school World Civilization and English with a bag of seashells?

Ten minutes into my beach walk I had my great idea. I reached down to pick up a black shell that looked perfect. As I pulled it out of the sand I discovered it was broken, with a jagged edge that spoiled the symmetry. I still liked the way it looked, and I dropped it into my bag. Aha! I liked it, so I kept it. Not all things we like are perfect. Not all things we love are perfect. Not all people we love are perfect. So Romeo met Juliet, and decided she was perfect, before he even got her out of the sand, so to speak. Don’t we all get excited when we think we’ve found something perfect? Aren’t we disappointed when it turns out it’s not?

Well teaching isn’t perfect, and my students aren’t either. I’m certainly not a perfect teacher. But I’m going home from my weekend with a couple of good meals and naps, and one good lesson. I’ll bring in a basket of seashells, and show the small perfect scallop I found, and the tiny little conch shell, and the big ugly oyster shell, and the shiny clam shell. We can compare which ones we like, and why. We can talk about whether we should throw out the broken ones. We’ll talk about what we should do with them. We can compare these seashells from the beach with Juliet from Verona. We’ll talk about it, and then the students will write about it. These descriptions will be posted on our wall to show examples of figurative language. Best of all, this lesson fits into the pacing guide for English 9. Shakespeare liked to describe things he loved by comparing them to nature, too.

I’ll let each student pick a shell to keep. The rest I’ll keep in that basket on my teacher table, to look at and to touch. And at least for this one day, as the students carry a seashell in their pocket, they will know that I’m happy to have them – shells or students – in my classroom even if less than perfect.

I’ve got to go back to the beach. I have to find something to use for World Civ. I think there are some World War II-era lookout posts further up the beach I can photograph. I’m a teacher. I’m always looking for something!

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