Why Literacy Instruction is Like Getting Rid of Moths

I promise, this post is about literacy instruction.  But to get there, I have to begin with a pretty embarrassing story about my kitchen pantry.

 If anyone were to see my pantry, I think they’d be impressed.  It’s impeccably organized.  The baking section is well-stocked, everything lined up in a row. The cooking section is robust, divided into smaller sections:  pasta, rice, soups, and breadcrumbs are all separated out. Vinegars and oils are clearly grouped.  Breakfast items are distinctly separated from snack and drink items.  I’ve taken great care in finding all the right containers, and they work together.  It’s even has a fresh coat of paint.  

It’s a thing of beauty.  

It’s in fact the best it’s ever looked, and is the most functional pantry I’ve ever had.  If I’m honest, it even reflects what I want it to–that I have my #%$ together–on the off-chance anyone were to see it.  

But I have to pull back the curtain.  This pantry iteration was hard-won.  

Sure, I’ve had pieces of it in place for a long time.  It’s always been mostly pretty organized–but not to this level.  I’ve even had most of the containers for a while, and they’ll be with me for many more years.  They’re dependable and I can always count on them to get the job done.     


One day, we saw a moth.  A tiny, brownish-gray moth.  And the next day, we saw another.  It didn’t take long to realize there was definitely an issue in the pantry.  But where it was coming from  was a mystery for weeks.  

I started where most people start–by turning to Google for the answer.  Per Google’s directions, I cleared everything out and wiped every surface with a bleach solution.  I also threw away every single thing I saw that could possibly be the breeding ground culprit:  the Bisquick, the oatmeal, the soup mixes.  I discovered a cracked Tupperware lid I didn’t even know was there and tossed the contents–container and all.  

This felt better–like I’d fixed the issue.  

But I was wrong.  

Google hadn’t helped. 

We then started opening things we thought sure were airtight.  I hadn’t thought to do this before, because…well, they’re airtight!  But lo and behold, as my husband opened the Progresso fine bread crumbs container, a moth flew out, and we saw the telltale webs.  Obviously, it went immediately to the trash.  For good measure, we also put everything in individual ziploc bags and removed them from the pantry, to watch each and every one for signs.  

Every day, we examined every ziploc, like a farmer watches eggs under incubation.  

My kitchen was a disaster.  It was frustrating to try to find room to cook, and I wanted to just bomb it all and start over.  

However, these moves made a big difference.  No moths for days.  Nothing in the ziplocs.  Woo hoo!  While everything was out, we painted the walls.  I hadn’t really noticed before, but they were pretty beat up after years of use. We got new containers so it would not only look better but also function better.  They even coordinated well with my trusty old Tupperware modular containers. Now we could rest easy.  

But we were still wrong.  

Somewhere, we’d missed something.  

It turned out to be the flour container.  I thought this, too, was airtight.  It was not.  (So my research was right, after all–I just hadn’t applied it correctly).  

Now, after weeks on end of testing things out, failing, and trying again, I’m proud of the result.  I’ve organized pantries in every house we’ve lived in over the past 20+ years, and they worked very well.  But this version…after much trial and error, setback, and rethinking…this version is my best.  I tweaked the system I already had in place and made it better.  But I know it’ll take frequent upkeep.  I’ll swap some things around, and will probably change it again as I find I need different functionality.  It’s not anywhere near Pinterest-perfect, but I don’t need that.  I’m very happy with how far it’s come.  For me and my family, it works perfectly.  

Until the next house.  Or insect sighting.  

This whole experience reminded me of literacy instruction. Here’s why:

  • When layers are peeled back, you discover holes you didn’t realize were there.  But it’s ok–there’s always a way to fix them.  
  • Research will lend insight, but it’s through your own trial and error that you figure out how to best apply that research to your context.  
  • We are constantly met with challenges and have to rethink and revamp.  Students’ needs are all different, so what worked in the past might not work now.
  • Results are not immediate.
  • What you’ve been doing for years might develop some cracks.  Always be on the lookout for ways to make things stronger.
  • Better instruction is cumulative.  The first way we do things isn’t going to be the best way, forever.  Over time, as tweaks are made, it becomes the best…and will only continue to strengthen in years to come. Just when you think you’re done, you’re not.  New discoveries lead to better ideas.
  • The journey is messy.  Sometimes it will feel like it’s just too freaking hard.  Sometimes what we worked hard to get in place won’t actually work all that well.  It takes tenacity.  
  • Make small changes over time.  There’s no need to get rid of everything.  Some things are tried and true for good reason. 
  • Improving instruction takes humility.  We can’t improve without admitting there’s room to grow.
  • You don’t need to measure up to anyone else.  It’s all about your own learning, growth, and development.

Know that literacy instruction is highly complex.  There are layers.  Nuances.  Exceptions. It can be so confusing, and even frustrating.  But the end result is worth every ounce of effort.  

Because as a teacher, when you sit beside a child,  or you sit beside a teacher if you’re a coach, and their eyes light up because you’ve helped them grow stronger, you’ve helped them become a better version of themselves…it’s all worth it.  

Do you have a teacher friend who could use some encouragement?  By all means, send this post their way! 

Is there an area of literacy instruction you want to improve?  Reach out for a coaching call!  I’d absolutely love to help!  

Who is Coach from the Couch??  I’m Michelle, a 24-year veteran educator, currently a K-5 literacy coach.  I continue to learn alongside teachers in classrooms each and every day, and it’s my mission to support as many teachers as I can.  Because no one can do this work alone. I’m available to you, too, through virtual coaching calls

Or, consider joining my Facebook community–a safe, supportive environment (really!)  where you can ask questions, learn ideas, and share your thoughts among other literacy-loving educators!  

Related Posts:  Looking Back to Look Ahead, How to Squelch Self Doubt, Know Better, Do Better, Stop Saying This Phrase Right Now, Don’t Just Manage Teacher Overwhelm, Prevent It

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