I had been teaching for somewhere between five and ten years when WalMart started their campaign of “Do More with Less!” It was presenting shoppers with free recipe cards and depending on the time of year, extra sales on supplies. Hunters had a season, Teacher’s had a new beginning, and everything you could think of were to be accounted for. Walmart was going to save the shopper so much money that they (shopper) would find the extra cash heavenly.
And so it took off- the campaign that shifted sales and price-matched. Folks everywhere were becoming empowered because indeed, they could do or get more for less. Now what’s the point of this and how does it apply to me?
Everyone in the world (maybe not the whole world, but you get my jist) knew that teachers use their own money for supplies and I was one of them. I had been buying classroom supplies and cleaning products for as long as I could remember. I was thankful for lower prices on spiral notebooks (ten cents each), Sharpies ($3.50 for two), erasers, markers, crayons, binders and those little zipper pouches were all the rage.
Staples (an office supply chain) ran Teacher Appreciation Day with breakfasts each August and gave us all a Staples bag full of really fun and top of the line “stuff”. They even gave us coupons that made us so happy ! Just in case you didn’t know, one oddity that most teachers claim with vehemence is that we loveoffice supplies. We love them so much that we horde them and hide them for ourselves or emergencies.
There aren’t any Teacher Supply stores in this town. Nor were there huge box stores. We would drive two hours south to find those goodies. Teacher’s would car pool with other teacher friends and it was always a great time. We would even catch lunch (Olive Garden) before we made that two hour drive home. Times were good. We were able to do more with less.
The years crept by and Staples no longer offered a Teacher Appreciation Day. No bags, no cool pens, nothing special for teachers. Bummer. The Walmart was still running their campaign but it wasn’t like it had been. The quality of the school supplies had changed. Thus teachers were breaking in to their own cabinets and closets to give each new group of kids an equally student friendly atmosphere in class that the past groups had. Some of us were able to make it work, up until about two years ago.
When I saw the advertisements of “Do More With Less”, I wanted to choke someone. The whole concept of having a bright and clean classroom was getting sun bleached and faded. I was out of money to get all of the things that I wanted, and my closet stash was dwindling.
Add a new plethora of high stakes test schedules with districts and on the personal/ professional development head of the teacher for evaluation purposes. How could we possibly do more and more with less and less? The whole school felt dreary and tense.
We stopped going on the two hour drives for school shopping and doing lunch. We stopped comparing the newest plugin scent warmers. We didn’t find any of our fun office supplies, well… fun. The desks were covered with pencil rubbings and little eraser blobs everywhere. Then we got the message from the state saying that we owed them 3% of our pay for the state retirement programs and health benefits.
Our Union was fit to be tied! There were hostile negotiations all over the place. No one was happy anymore. We were taking on “more duties as needed”. This led to a group of spirit-zapped adults tied up in moving target testing and then at the end of the day, realizing we actually were disgruntled. Deeply disgruntled.
We are a prideful group, no one wanted to jump ship, that was just a sign of weakness. So we all hung on and made it through another year. Then there was a chink in the armor, one of our own had a new job. A better job! We were caught somewhere between jealous and curious. One by one, the staff was breaking into a new or different job market. Some were sneaky, some were downright bold about it. I was left with my jaw open and I was sad. Where was the team? Were we all supposed to apply elsewhere? I love it here. I can deal with the storm. We will come out stronger for it. Right?
Administration rolled over and out for retirement. My mind grumbling about how I was paying for their retirement now and how our school felt grimy. We all needed the “Go get’em speech.” We waited. Nothing happened. The Music and Choir programs were closed now, which meant the other elective classes were overloaded.
I realized that if I gave each student one minute of one-on-one time in my class, the class bell would ring and they were gone. ONE MINUTE! How am I supposed to be effective with the students, when I only have one minute per student?!
The custodian staff had been cut back and now another duty of the staff was to keep the building clean. I didn’t mind cleaning, I felt sorry for the elective teachers.
The zest and zeal I had for going into my classroom day after day was losing its luster. Staff meetings weren’t fun anymore. Heck, we hardly spoke to eachother anymore; there was so much that we needed to do now. Ya know, “other duties as needed” was becoming a legitimate assignment for the staff.
That’s when I started getting sick 😷. The stress of school got me on blood pressure pills. I even got a bout of food poisoning more than once (not from the once home cooked meals prepared by our awesome kitchen staff, but by the stuff that we had to eat) – thanks to the government. Did the government consider that a “real” lunch or breakfast (or both) prepared by a genuinely caring staff were the only meals our students would have each day?
Our kids came to school hungry… the government approved menus were full of foreign (to them) flavorless food. Great! Now they get to go home hungry as well. I know I can’t function when I’m hungry, much less take tests all day and be fantastic.
I was losing patience and avoiding the building whenever I was able. I was starting to see the writing on the wall and my health was on a ginormous down hill slide.
We were good until the government used public schools a pawn in their political campaigns. When money was cut, we bled. The charisma, students, buildings, staff, basically everything suffered. There were more rules, expectations and demands now. All I wanted in life was to teach (i.e. read difficult texts with students and then help them to decipher them, or write something that required real skill. Write so that their voice is never lost in the world…). The ability to communicate effectively requires the ability to decipher difficult information and respond to it respectfully. Luckily we all have the right to be heard and understood. I wanted to teach everyone, everything in my realm of specialty -English /Language Arts.
This profession will always need MORE and right now we don’t even have enough to add it all together to measure it as less.
Do More With Less… ha.