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Education Humor
With Regina Barreca

Supplies In Demand


Ever try to take somebody's last roll of adhesive tape?

Ever ask to borrow the only available pack of permanent markers?

Ever attempt to use a colleague's Post-It notes without written permission?

Ever even consider running off with a whole box of heavy weight construction paper?

Of course not; you'd no more walk off with these supplies than you'd purloin someone's purse or burgle a neighbor's house.

Let's face it: a carjacking would be easier to explain than taking somebody else's personal Sharpie.

Within any "learning environment," rich or poor, competition for supplies is fierce. I don't care if you are at Choate, Berkeley -Carroll, or Chickasaw Elementary: if you take a co-worker's masking tape, you are just asking to be buried with a stake through your heart.

I know very well that since I have trouble getting the two doctoral students under my supervision to quit squabbling over the "grape" scented Magic Marker, then things must be tough all over.

When I asked Erica, who's been teaching in Colorado for the last 17 years, what she thought about the Great Battle for Stuff, she instantly e-mailed me -- despite having way too much to do without indulging her old friend's request for information -- the following creed: "Teachers fight over foam core and left-handed scissors. Gold stars remain objects of desire well past anyone's midlife crisis. Menopause in no way interferes with a longing for a fuzzy sticker saying 'You're #1!' pasted on the outside of a folder. Speaking of folders, finding a batch of unused brightly colored ones (we're talking about teal, fuchsia, and pumpkin here, not green, beige, and brown) is, for some, very much like the quest for the Holy Grail. Finding a stapler that works is as important and impossible for some as finding true love (plus with a stapler, you get replacements). Three hole punches that can do more than five pages at a time are still magnificent inventions even in this age of wireless Internet and cell phones the size of a thumbnail."

Eva-Marie simply saves everything. She has 238 coffee-cans in her garage. Somebody might need to make drums out of them, or she can use them for storage. The trouble is, what she really needs to store are all those coffee cans. Eva-Marie's way of dealing with a shortage of supplies in her district is to overcompensate by collecting odds and ends the way a magnet collects iron filings. It's sort of random. She collects stuff with the unstoppable force of a tornado, which means that she often seems as if she's living in the middle of one.

We must deal with the uncanny attraction that school supplies hold; after all, many of us have lusted after these objects since our earliest youth. If we're being honest, many of us became teachers so that we would have control over these objects.

I became a teacher because I passionately longed to write on the blackboard.

As a little kid, I dreamed of teaching a class. Since it was a dream, I saw myself writing neat straight sentences across green slate with Anduseptic chalk. In real life, however, there are no more blackboards -- and even when there were, my handwriting was always slanted so far upwards that by the end of the sentence I'd been standing on tiptoes.

Also, after 18 years of classroom instruction, I've learned never to turn my back on Them.

A colleague swears the only reason she took education classes was because she thought she'd be able to get a felt board of her own. Okay, so it's not what Virginia Woolf had in mind in terms of defining women's independence, but as a concept, it's entirely understandable. Now she's a computer whiz teaching a new generation of whizzes, this friend, but I suspect she secretly longs for a square of fuzzy green fabric with a red barn and white sheep that can be moved around.

If competition for supplies and niceties in the classroom is tough, then competition in the teacher's lounge turns us feral. Teachers' lounges everywhere have only one thing in unlimited supply: napkins from Dunkin' Donuts which, although they look new are nevertheless suspiciously crumpled, thereby carrying a faint threat of infection from some unknown, possibly infectious, previous user. In addition, there are sometimes coffee mugs reading, "I 'heart' Teachers" which fester on windowsills unclaimed. In the refrigerator you'll find yogurt dating back to 1987 and fat free half and half, which since it is made from petrochemicals, has no expiration date.

In contrast, bottled water is like Dom Perignon: people guard it obsessively and threaten bodily harm if theirs is so much as touched by a stranger.

Of course in the best schools, necessities always are abundant: these -- as we know -- are enthusiasm, love for the profession, delight in our students, and a sense of humor.

Although some fresh Sharpies wouldn't hurt.

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