Innovate In The Empty Space

Another school year is set to begin in many parts of the US (still a few weeks to go for most Canadian schools!) Classes are being set up, and new pencils are being sharpened (stealing from the movie “You’ve Got Mail” - there is nothing cooler than a bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils) In some parts of the country though, schools and districts are having a hard time coming up with funding to meet the needs of their teachers. Budgets are tight and a lot of teachers are feeling forced to find ways to fill the gaps in their supplies that their school districts can’t supply them. We are seeing a lot of Amazon wishlists. On Twitter, #clearthelists was a dominant hashtag this week. A quick search will show you hundreds if not thousands of educators trying to meet their shortfall through crowdfunding and the generosity of strangers.

I have a few thoughts on this I wanted to get out.

It Shouldn’t Be Happening In The First Place

(incoming slight politics rant) It should go without saying that the fact that #clearthelists exists at all is an absolute disgrace and shouldn’t be happening at all. The idea that the US spends enough money that they can win a war anywhere in the world if they wanted to, without even setting foot on foreign soil but can’t supply their educators at home with the supplies they need to teach their classes is absolutely, unequivocally, morally bankrupt. Straight up. The idea that 60 Fortune 500 companies in the US basically paid no Federal Income Tax in 2018 but we have some schools absolutely falling apart is saddening. At this point in the school funding discussion there doesn’t need to be fine tuning but a massive, nationwide intervention to rescue the system before it gets too far gone. There is an incredible cognitive dissonance in America over what is important and when those things are important. It has a lot to do with who is in power at the time. I don’t have a solution to these issues (I’m also Canadian so I couldn’t fix them if I did) but I feel like there are more than a few D presidential candidates for President who have great ideas on how to fix the education system and I hope you take a look at their platforms on education and cast a vote for the system you NEED to work better than it does right now.

Please Help

So I’m obviously not a fan of the fact that this needs to happen. But, it DOES need to happen. There were a lot of lists I saw that had some of the most basic of things on it. I was surprised to see pencil crayons, markers, tape and glue on some lists. I was stunned to see construction paper, tablecloths. Things you would think would be in any school supply room. It made me remember the privilege I had working at a private school with giant supply rooms with almost anything I needed in terms of the basics. I had too much, these friends don’t have near enough. I found a teacher who replied to my tweet when these lists first started popping up and I wanted to help someone so I took a look through her list. A paper cutter is a pretty common thing. As the husband of a Kindergarten teacher, I also know how much they are used! This teacher had to walk all the way to the other side of her large school just to cut paper. She was probably doing this multiple times a day - or maybe even worse, stacking it all up to take down and do all at once, consuming her entire prep time just cutting paper. That seemed pretty dumb to me, so I bought her the paper cutter she wanted. The point, take a look though someone’s list and buy them something you think makes sense. Buy them something that resonates with you in terms of you understanding the need. I’ll admit, there was stuff on some people’s lists I just didn’t understand, but there was a lot of good stuff on almost every list I looked at. Help someone out. Let’s get a little socialism up in here (see, I can be political AND funny at the same time!)

Teachers are Superheroes

Really. You people stepping out to fill the missing needs for your kids - you’re amazing. It takes courage to admit you have a need and can’t do it yourself. Also, #clearthelists is basically professional begging, and I am here for it. You did what you had to do in order to get what you needed to do your job and I salute each one of you. I love that people shared lists, compared lists, gave out ideas on how to save money or replace options with cheaper ones in the hopes they were bought for them. I also love that once lists were cleared some of those needy educators went and bought something for another educator. They paid it forward. That’s the best. You were heroes for your students before you had to ask people to help you buy stuff for your classroom, and this has taken that to a whole other level. I couldn’t be more proud to call myself an educator.

There Is Opportunity Here

As someone who started teaching Computer Science BEFORE things like Scratch and and Tykner were HUGE sites that everyone knew about, I had to find ways to do what I wanted to do (basically what they do now) without them to support me. I can’t help but see the lack of some resources also as an opportunity for educators to innovate. I’d encourage you to not be discouraged by the lack of some of the tools you may have had in the past. Education is about moving forward. Maybe some of those resources can just be left behind. Maybe it’s time to find new ways to do that thing you’ve been doing for a decade. I’d LOVE to see educators start talking about what they did in their classroom even if their lists were not cleared. Don’t let this stop you. In the voids, the empty space, in your resources is room for you to take that superhero status to a whole other level. Innovate in the empty space. I bet you’ll feel accomplished and proud when you do. I also have NO DOUBT your students will be better off for it.

Mike WashburnComment