Screen Shot 2013-06-08 at 7.20.26 AMI’m out of tissues and hand sanitizer. Students are mad. I see this.

“Miss, got any tissues?” I keep forgetting to bring in a new box–I have my stockpile on my homesteading shelf in my basement. Someone needs to text me at 5AM when I plan such things.

“No, sorry.” Huff. Stomp.

I share. I’m generous. But sometimes I wonder why it’s my job to provide things for…my job. I can afford tissues. There was a time when I couldn’t. There was a time, teaching, when I ran my household on a $30 grocery budget for a household of four and still had to have supplies for my class. For two years in the middle of the biggest recession I’ll ever see, a few years after taking out 25K in graduate loans and cutting my salary in half for the privilege.

Thankfully, those days are gone, but not for every teacher–I see the newest teachers stocking their classrooms because they want them to be the utopias students deserve–I see when they put themselves in debt. Balance is important, teacher burnout is the highest out of any career. Teachers need balance. That extends to financial balance as well. It’s something that’s tough for teachers. But I have well over two hundred students–some years as few as 150–and most days several of them sound like this:

Screen Shot 2013-06-08 at 7.19.58 AM“Miss, got a band-aid?”

“Miss, I don’t have a pencil.”

“Miss, got any tissues?”

“Where’s the paper?”

“Miss, got any hand sanitizer?”

Sometimes, when I am well supplied, I share. Other times not so much. If I gave every student who asked me for a pencil a pencil each time they asked, I’d be giving out a lot of pencils. Hundreds of pencils. I knew of a teacher who marked down on her teacher evaluation because a student didn’t have a pencil. This is serious.The fact that students don’t have a pencil–and maybe that I forgot the tissues–can now affect my career. I literally give out thousands of pencils. Sometimes I feel like a game show.

“You’re awake, you win a pencil!!!”  I needed to reduce this amount. I feel strongly about not killing the rainforest, but also about personal responsibility. I’ve worked for twenty years, coming prepared every day. It’s important. I try to teach this to students. I got an idea.

I invented the Crayon of Shame. I got a little bucket, into which I put crayons, broken pencils, and the types of colored pencils that are really hard to write with. Then, I said, “No,” really loud, “I DON’T have a pencil. But you can have the crayon of shame.” That helped increase preparedness for a while–no one wants the crayon of shame, and I purposely picked things that didn’t write smoothly. That wouldn’t be a pleasure to use.  After a while, the crayon of shame became a badge of honor. So I tried something new. “I’ll rent you a pencil for ten points.” I don’t usually take the points, but I make a big theatrical deal about it, Shakespearian-style. All the world’s a stage…and a particularly big one when making fun of kids. Kids without pencils whining because they used the last handful of my tissues.

Sometimes there is a propensity, in student land, to waste resources. It’s true. Mr. I Took Eighty Kleenexes or Student Who Loses A Pencil a Day may not sound like a big deal until you realize half a rainforest and a week’s salary goes into replacing all this stuff. I feel strongly about sustainability. I don’t know the exact amount of trees I have to kill to make enough kleenexes for 250 students, but it’s a lot. In my personal household, I try not to waste resources. My son didn’t know what a paper towel or napkin was until recently, and he’s six.

I guess it’s hard to waste resources in schools because schools so seldom have resources, but it’s still something to be aware of either way. Maybe next year, I’ll embroider handkerchiefs as my gift to each student. I can make them slightly by tweaking this “How to Make Napkins” craft board on Learnist by Project Runway’s Melissa Fleis. Sure, it’s about napkins, but I bet it’d work for handkerchiefs, too.

But for now, I tell them to pick their nose, we’re out of tissues.

“What?” I say, “Okay, fine. Go to the lav. Remember to wash your hands. Research says 70% of people don’t wash their hands.” I always wreck a good time with research. It’s my job. But shopping for supplies for my job, I fear, is not.

I really hope, in all this ed reform, someone budgets for a box of tissues. Because not only do I have to blow my nose once in a while, but I often have to cry.


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