Slice of Life: The “Ugly” Sweater


I am a pack-rat. I hate to throw anything away. My cousins and I tease each other that this must be genetic because my grandmother saved EVERYTHING. I have a love/hate relationship with this part of my personality. On the one hand, the piles of boxes and books in my attic and office drive me crazy. On the other hand, I can usually find what I’m looking for and am glad that I still have whatever it is I’m trying to find.

This was true last week when we had our Christmas party at work. The party organizers thought it would be fun to have an “Ugly Sweater” contest, with a prize for the ugliest sweater. “You know, those tacky holiday sweaters everyone used to wear,” one of my colleagues explained. Yes. I did know. I still have one. (Okay, maybe two, but I swear my tackiest Talbots sweater, circa 1994, went to Goodwill at least a year ago.) In the days leading up to the party, conversations like this could be heard throughout the halls: “Do you have an extra sweater I can borrow?” or “Maybe you can find one at the thrift store.”

Happy to know I didn’t have to search for something to wear, I was faced with another dilemma. I like my sweater. I don’t think it’s ugly. That’s why I still have it. I was relieved to find out that other people agreed with me. (Although maybe they were just trying to be nice.) Still, I felt better when I saw my friend Cathy.


The winner of the contest didn’t have an ugly sweater, so she created one by raiding her Christmas decorations.


All this good-natured fun got me thinking, though. Even if my sweater wasn’t ready for the donation box, are there elements of my teaching that are? Am I clutching to an activity or practice just because I’ve always done it? I like to think that I’m reflective and objective about this, but I’m not sure. I definitely have favorite books and projects, but I also read new books and am always on the look out for ideas that will improve my teaching.

The truth is we get comfortable with materials and routines. It’s scary to change our practices and habits. But is this in the best interest of our students? When I talk with colleagues about lessons or activities, I always ask them, “How does this help our students grow as readers and writers?” If there isn’t a good answer to this question, then we have to let it go. By the same token, we shouldn’t be in a hurry to toss everything over for some shiny new program. If a practice is effective, we should keep it. We may need do some tweaking, but there’s a big difference between abandoning and modifying. We have to trust ourselves to make good decisions in this time of rampant change.

And don’t throw that sweater away. You never know when it will be exactly what you want to wear.

Thank you to everyone at Two Writing Teachers for sharing your slices. Your stories always give me new ideas to think about.

10 thoughts on “Slice of Life: The “Ugly” Sweater

  1. Fantastic post! Firstly, I love the sound of an ugly sweater party. What a great idea! And secondly, I love the point you make about keeping/discarding old methods. I am not a teacher but this can apply to all aspects of life I think.


  2. Great slice! I don’t have a Christmas style sweater but like you, it’s hard for me to throw anything away, especially old clothes, parts of my life, especially the pieces I will never be wearing again because I will never be that slim again. But when the mood hits me, I can go crazy 🙂


  3. Someone just posted on FB about an ugly sweater party-what fun. I no longer have one, cleaned much out last year, but they are fun, and I agree, some, like yours, are pretty! I love that you applied this to the classroom too. I have learned to change because I had students at least two years, sometimes three. The biggest challenge there was to remember what I’d done! Happy holidays, Catherine!


  4. I love your post and the connection to the classroom. In our role we discover it is really hard for teachers to let go of things they once did, the units they love. We encourage them to talk about what they love about it and then think about how it can fit into the new standards or curriculum they are using. It is really important to hold on to what we believe. Thank you – and I love those sweaters!


  5. Hey, those sweaters don’t look “ugly”! I have a few, I am happy to say, and I wear them from time to time over the winter break – the moans and groans of despair from my family are pretty hilarious. Happy holidays!


  6. Oh Jeez, I used to work for Talbots circa 1994 and thought I was quite fashionable in those Christmas sweaters. Now everyone is coming out of the closet saying they aare ugly. Wish someone had told me back in ’94. Seriously your post makes an important point about not lazily hanging on to methods but also not being too quick to discard. Thanks.


  7. We are having ugly sweater day Friday at school. Should be interesting! I love the connection you made with teaching. I know we have several teachers that just can’t let go of things, and it has been very difficult for them with our new evaluations. By the way…I like your sweaters!


  8. I didn’t see the connection to teaching coming and I loved it. Who knew that an ugly sweater could be right up there with a tried and true instructional practice or a favorite book???–I don’t think that I will ever be ready to let go of WHen I Was Young in the Mountains or almost anything by Patricia MacLachlan. I have, however, let go of the Talbots Christmas sweaters. The idea of an ugly sweater party almost makes me miss them. Only almost, though… Great post, Catherine.


  9. Love the connection between hanging on to the old sweater and holding on to old teaching practices. There is something wonderful about “cleaning out”–and re-evaluating, both your wardrobe and your teaching. Maybe we should all resolve to get rid of at least one “old” practice every year…and replace it with something new that pushes us out of our comfort zone! Thanks for sharing your “slice!”


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