Remember that fairy tale/fable, “Stone Soup?” A peddler goes to a town, and tricks the villagers that he has a magic soup stone, and all the villagers contribute to the pot until they have a delicious, shared meal.
We need a magic stone.
My school seems to be the new norm — children living in poverty.
Hold that thought.
As many writers do, or at least I think we do, our ideas and mental drafts arrive in the wee hours of the morning, or right before we lose consciousness to sleep. This was one such morning for me. Should I take a risk and write a Medium post, and spill everything that is my current situation? A wiser woman would just drink her coffee, write it up in Scrivener, and never, ever let it see the light of day. But hey, I’m not that smart sometimes. The truth is our current situation has been an odd struggle –I’ve touched on this from time to time, and perhaps I will write that Medium post. For the time being, I’ll share what happened when my husband and I went to the bank the other day to talk about home equity loans:
He’s been laid off multiple times over the ten years I’ve been teaching: his expertise in mobile and UX design, and the capriciousness of the computer industry, combined with the monstrous egos and hubris of many of its executives, makes our home look like an uncool scene from Silicon Valley. He finds new work relatively easily, but this is the age of disposable human resources, and aforementioned hubris, and those looking for the ‘next big thing’ shifts human resources around like so many pixels in a photoshopped model photo. I, on the other hand, have worked steadily for ten years, and though my salary wouldn’t support myself and my sons in a lower-middle class lifestyle, it has been steady. Guess who had the better credit rating?
Yup. (If you guessed me, you’d be wrong: but this is the story for Medium.)
Why share this personal story? We’ll get through it, we always do, but right now, when reminded about how my students came back from break tired, hungry, and ready for routines again, how am I supposed to fix all this when my personal resources are depleted? Austerity measures happen in local economies, too. (And I had to bite my tongue when a student told me the other day we needed ‘smaller government.’ I’m sure that comes from his parents’ values, and that’s fine, but I am not sure if they understand smaller government means their child doesn’t get lunch.)
So: what to do when your students need your money, too?
Now students don’t directly ask for money, well–not often. I’ve been hit up for bus fare, water bottles from the vending machine, etc. And if I bring snacks to one of my clubs, the swarm of fingers in the bags and wake of wrappers and sticky-ended candy remains leave no doubt that the middle schoolers want snacks. Many students go without lunch, too, and not because they don’t have free and reduced, but because it’s gross. The pizza is plastic, the teriyaki dippers gamey and cornstarch-covered in weird gravy, and the salads have multiple packaging traps and obstacles. The serving sizes are strictly Federally mandated minuscule; no wonder students consider the cheap, fructose-laden ginormous cans of Arizona teas and huge bags of Hot Cheetos to be a much better dietary choice.
A colleague and I talked discussed how working at my school takes an emotional toll out of teachers, too. There is a fatigue factor when trying to gut-up for staying on top of best practices, and then working with children you know are hungry, exhausted, and emotionally drained. To remind oneself you are the adult, you are responsible, and you are perhaps their only safe quarter proves to be a tough pep-talk some days.
I propose –something. Something, anything. Maybe ask local grocery stores to do what France does for edible food instead of throwing it away. Maybe start a co-op with the staff — look at what staff members do already. I don’t need another coffee mug or other tchotchke. Perhaps our Sunshine Dues money could be halved and an account for club snacks? Currently the ASB rules forbid ASB dollars from buying consumable goods, such as food. Perhaps it’s time to look at that rule and change it. I just get the sense there is so much donated/charitable money out “there” somewhere, but the red-tape may be keeping it tied up. Are there organizations out there that can be called upon to help? Heck, all I want is some healthy, fresh water, milk, and juice and some fresh fruit, muffins, bagels/cream cheese, etc. for my two clubs.
And a living wage for teachers, because if I can’t put on my oxygen mask, I can’t help anyone else, either.
Oh, and books. We need books.
Here’s the thing: time and again, I have learned that education has saved me and my family. When we view that education as a guarantee to a middle-class quality of life, then we feel cheated, because that’s how the bootstraps are sewn, but no promises that the boots will fit. I know our job is vital, and deserves my dedication.
I advocate the we (teachers) work together to find all the resources we can to support students and ourselves.
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