School Supplies: A Teacher’s Last Wish

      “I don’t have a pencil.” The over-sized middle school boy explained his plight to me, while staring into space and not doing his assigned work. “My mom’s dead,” he said matter-of-factly, offering this as the reason why he was without a pencil. I swallowed the lump in my throat, refusing to let the adolescent see my look of unchecked sympathy, because no teenager wants to be the object of anyone’s pity. I grabbed a pencil off of the teacher’s desk and handed it to him with an encouraging smile.

The other students in the class were quite vocal about the fact it had been a couple of years since the juvenile had lost his mother, and that he always offered up this excuse when it came time to do work. But two decades ago, I was a substitute teacher without knowledge of the teen’s history.

Yet as a former single mom, I did understand that school supplies can be a precious commodity for disadvantaged children. Specifically, as back-to-school season looms on the horizon, there is often enormous stress for a family with financial struggles. There are back-to-school clothes and shoes, pictures, school fees, electronics, and of course, back-to-school supplies.

Last year, USA Today ran CNBC’s David Gernon’s article, “The surprising expenses of back-to-school shopping” on August 15, 2017. “Parents of elementary school students can expect to pay an average $662, up 1% from last year,” Gernon reported “Middle-school students’ parents will fork over $1,001, a 4.6% increase.” High school students’ back-to-school expense will be even higher with clothes and shoes being their priority items.

On July 12, 2018, Good Housekeeping posted Carol Picard’s, “The Ultimate Back-to-School Shopping Lists From Kindergarten to College.” The Good Housekeeping associate editor compiled recommended lists for different age groups complete with Amazon prices for the products. For example, Picard suggests a kindergartner might need: a pencil box ($5), crayons ($5), colored pencils ($3), washable markers ($6), No. 2 pencils ($6), pencil sharpener ($5), erasers ($6), glue sticks ($5), blunt-tipped scissors ($3), plastic folders ($15 for six), assorted construction paper ($9), wide-ruled notebook or pad ($4), tissues ($4), backpack ($20 and up), and [possibly] a lunchbox ($17). Hopefully, most kindergarteners won’t require a list this extensive, but there are still quite a few supplies a child needs to begin the school year. And these items cost money, money an economically disadvantaged family doesn’t have.

Many caring teachers donate their own hard-earned cash to buy supplies, but they can’t possibly fill the vast demand. That’s why, local and national organizations, churches, companies, and individuals step up to the plate by donating back-to-school items to guarantee students will have what they require to start their year off right. When I see the advertisements for back-to-school products, I am grateful for these generous human beings who contribute their financial resources to equip the community’s less fortunate children.

So, recently when I read the Internet headline, “Teacher’s Unusual Final Request for Her Funeral Goes Viral,” I had to take a look at the inspirational story of Tammy Waddell. The late Mrs. Waddell was a dedicated teacher who lost her battle to colon cancer on June 9, 2018. According to the Faithit article, “Two weeks before her death, in lieu of flowers, the 58-year-old asked that funeral attendees bring backpacks of supplies for children in need.”

When Tammy’s cousin Dr. Brad Johnson @DrBradJohnson posted a photo of the backpacks filled with supplies lining the chapel where the late teacher’s Celebration of Life was held, thousands of folks reacted to the emotional twitter picture. Johnson’s touching tweet about his late cousin read, “…A teacher to the end.”

The obituary of the Georgia educator describes her, “Tammy served the children and community of Forsyth County for thirty years as a paraprofessional and elementary teacher in Forsyth County Schools. She had a passion for literacy and believed that every child deserved an opportunity to learn.”

But children can’t learn if they don’t have the necessary supplies to do classwork. In honor of Mrs. Waddell and of the countless compassionate teachers in our local school systems, may we band together once again to ensure no child is without a pencil like the teen I met as a substitute teacher. Instead let’s make sure every student has the tools they need to have a productive and successful school year.

 

Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy/Ohio AP award-winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Her novel, Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife will be available in Fall 2018. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

 

 

 

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Walking a mile in a teacher’s shoes

schoolroomThe school year is in full swing with teachers back in their classrooms. Some folks might mistakenly believe that teaching is an easy job. Not me. Fifteen years ago, on my first morning as a substitute teacher, I vividly remember standing in front of a class of about 25 high school students at multi-academic levels waiting for my instruction. Over and over the school bell rang that stressful day signaling the next period and at least 20 new faces would fill a vacated desk. Some of the students looked bored, some seemed intent on learning, while others were openly rebellious.

Thus began my year as a substitute middle/high school teacher. It’s necessary to qualify that I am not a teacher by training. Rather I was an unemployed journalist who had a rose-tinted vision of imparting knowledge to young people. My idealism about changing the world was quickly diminished when after a few weeks of subbing my goal turned to that of survival.

The truth is many substitutes never really get the chance to teach, since thankfully an absent teacher’s lesson plans include; a relevant movie, worksheet, or directions for a project already in progress. Seasoned educators know that subs are babysitters, just like veteran reporters know that recently graduated journalists are cubs. It’s a new substitute’s job to prove oneself, but that can be very difficult moving from school to school and classroom to classroom. For example, that first fall a particularly boisterous group of high school boys threatened to end my budding teaching career. While trying to take attendance, they proudly revealed that they had gotten rid of their last sub, “an elderly gentleman with purple hair” by flying handmade paper airplanes at him.school-desks

The mischievous teens laughed in mocking delight as they encircled me, while I frantically maintained that they were to “take their seats.” Their loud taunting voices were suddenly silenced when their principal mysteriously appeared in the back of the room offering them two for one Saturday School if they continued to be disrespectful.  Order immediately returned, because most high school students want to avoid punishment at all costs. Sadly, some parents enable their children to disregard school rules. This can become a teacher’s worst nightmare, when a student is empowered by the fact that they will have no consequences at home for acting up.

In my short tenure, I observed innocent teachers threatened for something as simple as denying a disruptive student a hall pass or even occasionally being pelted with undeserved obscenities by an unruly youth. I withstood my own daily teaching tests pretty well, choosing to focus on the majority of obedient, compassionate and helpful students who could be found in every classroom.

Although by early spring, it was the middle-school students who convinced me that I would have to end my career as a nomadic sub. Most of them didn’t seem to understand consequences like the high-school students did. Therefore, pandemonium broke out once when I was placed in a classroom with 15 middle-schoolers, 15 sewing machines, and a missing bobbin.

sewing-stuffMy young charges began to angrily blame each other for the missing bobbin, while imploring me to mediate the situation. In exasperation, I said, “What is a bobbin?” My admission of ignorance drew a look of disdain from the teens and tweens who showed me the small sewing machine part wrapped with colored thread. After settling the dispute, I leaned against the blackboard and gazed heavenward, silently asking, “God, what have I done to deserve this?” My answer came in the lessons gleaned during that memorable year.

Even though my brief teaching career ended shortly after the “sewing machine” incident, I learned that the life of a caring teacher is anything but easy or carefree. Their evenings are filled with grading papers, creating lessons, and doing all the things they can’t get done in a classroom filled with boisterous kids. This experience also prepared me for life as a school administrator’s wife, since I married one the following summer.

Headlines occasionally report the story of an unscrupulous mentor who lacks integrity and takes advantage of an unsuspecting youth, but these isolated incidents are the exceptions to the rule. Most educators invest countless unseen hours striving diligently to make the world better, one student at a time. My deepest respect goes out to teachers, knowing firsthand how difficult their path can be, because I was once honored to “walk a mile in their shoes.”

Christina aloneChristina Ryan Claypool is an Amy award-winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.

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