Saturday, June 19, 2010

Recycling, 101

I should be grading my last set of finals, but after emptying file cabinets and book shelves all day, I am coated in sweat and the equivalent of what my dad used to call “purse dust” (you know, the hair strands, lint, tissue, paper, receipt and wrapper scraps that cling to the mints that fall to the bottom of a woman’s purse). I suppose it’s apt for me to reflect on leaving behind my public school career, at least for a year. 
As usual, my classroom has not been swept in a week, the floor has not been mopped in months, and the only way my desk is cleaned is if I personally take my napkins and my Formula 409 to it.  If I ever see the large, square man they call the Plant Manager, he is usually strolling across the quad at a man of leisure’s pace, bluetooth in his ear, phone clipped to his belt. I never see him with a broom or dustpan, screwdriver, hammer, or any other tool of his supposed trade for that matter. Frankly, I almost never see him. So even though there may be a cause other than budget cuts for all the filth that has piled up in my room, after a full day of wading through the detritus of a career well spent, and after sneezing all day from the dust agitation, I am just pooped. Worst of all, I am not even close to finished packing up and getting out of there. 
Fortunately, a few of my extraordinary kids stuck around this afternoon to help me reduce what had originally been eight boxes of files to three by tossing all but two hard copies of every handout I have created and amassed over the years. Of course, since I teach in a music academy, we listened to musical numbers and did our share of dancing around the room-- “It’s Too Darned Hot” was a fitting fave-- but we still finished the task and by the time we finished, we were shin deep in paper. 
One of my kids, a conscientious planet lover who puts me to shame because of her pure-hearted devotion, piled her car trunk with the ton of paper we tossed. She’s going to take it to a recycling center near her home since the school (let’s just say if it could make money out of the wasted paper, we’d all be millionaires) keeps its recycling bins locked up and generally inaccessible. 

I can now rest comfortably knowing that paper bags will soon be made of essay topics on Thoreau and Shakespeare and Poe and Homer, I could go on; paper cups will soon be made of critical essays about Whitman, Anderson, Hawthorne, Hemingway, Spenser, Petrach, Shelley, Keats, again I could go on; and more paper will be made out of quizzes and finals and review sheets and short stories and poetry and plays. And one can only hope that all the benchmark tests and district directives and other bilge from on high will be turned into its most useful form: toilet paper. I must say, there’s something heartening about this recycling notion.
My kids will also be part of this great recycling in that they will take what I have tried to impart and turn it into part of their ever evolving perspectives. All week they have been openly reflecting as they try to hang on to the life and literature lessons they felt were invaluable, all in an effort to turn their grief about the end of things into something useful. 
The week has been tremendously sad with kids giving me photo tributes, flowers, cookies, lemons from which to make lemonade, Reese’s cups (they know my pedestrian tastes), unabashed love and tears, even a mock parking ticket on my car, citing me for “excessive grammar corrections.” They have come into the room to hang out and to sift through the remnants of my classroom decor. They took whatever was meaningful to them--postcards, statuettes, posters, paper trays, books-- and I was happy as hell to give it all to them.  They think my absence will leave a hole in their hearts and should only know the hole they will leave in mine. 
It’s not to say that my next job won’t be good, but I am leaving my current school at the top of my game, so to speak. That I have now been asked to work in a school where I will be treated with a modicum of dignity,  along with better hours and stellar, supportive colleagues, is no small thing, especially after the debacle that was this year in public school--everything from the consistent public drubbing by colleagues to hurtful pay cuts. All of it petty, and all of it dispiriting.  Right now, however, I am feeling valued all the way around and that is a good way both to leave one job and to start another.  
Unfortunately, as I have mentioned repeatedly in one way or another,  the district fosters in our ranks a cannibalistic survival instinct that can instantly turn the sublime into the ridiculous. . . .
As my 10th graders were furiously scratching out their last essay for me, in walks a teacher with whom I have a passing hello relationship. She said, with great surprise in her voice, “I hear you’re leaving” to which I nodded and looked appropriately sad as I waited for some sort of commiseration. I mean, why else would she have walked all the way out to my classroom? Right? 

Without missing a beat, she said, “Can I have your file cabinets?” 
Then during the next final, another teacher, this one I have seen only once or twice on the campus, came out to ask me whether what he had heard about my leaving was true. When I told him it was, he then asked, “Can I have your file cabinets?” 

Let the recycling begin!


  1. Dear Ms. Felcher,
    I miss you.
    Im sitting at the end of the hallway in an awning that overlooks the redwoods. The fog is rolling in. I study here. Sometimes I have "study seshes" with my friends Chloe, the bioengineer, and Jara, the film major. But the three of us have a grand total of zero classes together, s'hall we say counterproductive?
    But believe it or not, its easier than studying in my room.
    Is one roomate not enough?
    Try two...haha
    I went to sleep to one roommate's "Wizards of Waverly" and the other's Japanese homework..."che, che, che, che, hu, hu, hu, hu"
    haha wait, that was the same roommate.
    enough roommate bitching...
    I miss you.
    I have been on time to all of my classes thanks to you. I know you will have a hard time believing this because I didn't give you the liberty to see the effect of your punctualness on my punctualness because I was never very punctual to your class, but it stuck. And thank you.
    I hope they are appreciating you at your new school. I want to hear all about your jews.
    Love you, Aimee
    P.S I wish I would have know that you were leaving Hamilton, I could've used some file cabinets and we had some room in the gold van to santa cruz.

  2. Aimee, so lovely to hear from you! As ever you make me proud.