Thursday, October 07, 2010

The Blue Paper

I used the last of the blue paper today.  The blue paper was donated in my second year of teaching, in a rather spectacular manner.

By my second year of teaching, I was already exhausted.  I was trying to learn how to teach third grade, dealing with an administrator whose favorite line was "I can have your job, you know!" trying to figure out how to deal with standardized tests, and much, much more.  When I got to part of the curriculum that required the kids to cut and paste and my request for scissors and glue was met by the person in charge of supplies rolling her eyes and saying "We don't have those," in a manner that clearly suggested I was clueless to how schools worked, something in me snapped.  This was the beginning of me begging for help.

I'll write another post at some point about how I may have shamelessly begged every one of my friends and acquaintances to volunteer in the classroom.  I started by begging for supplies.  

After quickly exhausting my resources of friends who had extra supplies (yes, this was back in the day when some schools actually HAD supplies and my friends may have let me "borrow" some of them), I turned to craigslist.  I put up a post on the "items wanted" section saying that I was at an underprivileged school and that we desperately needed supplies, listing which supplies would be helpful.  I got a handful of people who had a few pair of scissors or some scratch paper or just good hearts and encouragement.  I also got two emails which stood out.

One was from someone who was remarkably angry.  The writer of the email, who never used his or her name, stated - with a lot of exclamation marks - that privileged do-gooder teachers need to come to the realization that there is no amount of glue or scissors in the world that can help these children in their education and that simply providing the children with glue and scissors instead of a quality education was only hurting them and who did I think I was anyway?

The other was a little more helpful.  It was from a man named "Koke" (pronounced like the soda) who wanted to know if I wanted some paper.  Of course I wanted some paper.  He said he had a lot and he'd bring it in his pickup if that was OK.

The man had PAPER.

He drove an beat-up, not particularly small, pickup truck.  He was a big guy, in late middle-age, wearing overalls.  I think the story was that he owned a storage facility and someone had left all this paper and he wanted it to go to good use.  The truck was overflowing with paper.  There was probably a paper train all the way down the freeway.  Fortunately, at that point, I lived in a house with a garage, because the paper probably took up almost half of the garage.  There was white paper, salmon-colored paper, and light blue paper.  Some was 11x17, some was 11x14, and some was standard printer paper.  There were boxes and boxes of paper.  We loaded it all into the garage and I couldn't stop staring because there was SO MUCH PAPER.    The salmon and blue paper was pretty faded for the most part, but all the white paper was in good shape.  There were a few boxes of really nice thick light blue paper - almost cardstock - that was glossy on one side.

I loaded up as many boxes as would fit in my car and brought them to school.  I think I put a sign out for the other teachers saying that I had a lot of paper and to please get some.  People would come by, thinking I'd give them half a ream, and I'd give them 7 or 8 reams.  They kept asking if it was really OK for them to take it, because we were all used to hoarding supplies.  I kept bringing more paper from home until everyone had enough.

The problem was that I still had a garage full of paper.  Handing it out to the almost 40 teachers at my school hadn't really made a dent in it.  I brought as much to school as would fit in my classroom and had paper stacked in every empty space, on ever bookshelf, and in the filing cabinets.  I never used the copy machine paper anymore because it was always running out.  I just brought my own.  The kids liked having worksheets and homework on light blue and salmon-colored paper.  They loved the blue glossy paper and used it for painting, drawing, and home art projects.

For the next 6 years, whenever we had standardized tests, an administrator would come to me and ask if I still had some of that extra scratch paper and I'd supply the whole school with paper for the math section.  I gave stacks of it to kids who liked to draw, first in my class, and then - as word spread - to kids all over the school, who I didn't even know.  I gave it away on Freecycle to other teachers at other schools.  I moved boxes of that paper from one classroom to another and from one house to another to the house I'm in now.  My dad had a few choice words about having to move almost a whole truckload of paper when he helped me move in my third year of teaching.  (Also, the library books.  He wasn't thrilled about having to move about 10 books from the public library but I hadn't read them yet and I was staying in the same city, so I didn't want to return them!)  That paper was like the loaves and the fishes.  Or the Hanukkah oil.  It just didn't run out.

When I finished teaching, I still had a stack of blue paper that was probably equal to 5 or 6 reams, but was all in one stack of loose paper.  I've been using it as printer paper and then scratch printer paper, when one side was used.  Today I used the last piece, nine years after Koke brought that truckload to my house.  I have an editing project printed on the blue paper, and now that I've edited it and made the changes on the computer, it's time to get rid of it.  It's a little silly, but there's a part of me that wants to keep that one last piece of the blue paper.

Two years ago: Central America Pictures (I sure would like to be back there now!)

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