Thursday, March 01, 2012

She Might Even Inspire You

The teacher who came before me at our school over a decade ago felt we had too many basic wooden unit blocks and sold half of them, or so I was told. You never sell unit blocks: that's the lesson I took away from that. 

As a first year teacher, I felt we needed more Brio trains and tracks, but didn't want to pay the freight for the name brand, so shopped until I found a great deal on an alternative that claimed to fit with Brio and Thomas trains for half the price. Not only did they not fit, but they were just barely off, just enough that the kids could sometimes wedge the pieces together, then have to literally break the wood to separate them, further reducing our train track supply. Even the trains themselves were manufactured to just miss fitting our existing track. Cheap trains make expensive collage materials: that's the lesson I took away from that. 

Any of us who run our own classroom have stories like this, lessons we learned that come, literally, at the expense of our schools. Just yesterday, I arrived to find we'd left an entire ream of drawing paper out in the rain overnight. Well, not an entire ream because if it had been the whole thing, it would have still been wrapped tightly in its plastic wrapper and likely would have avoided all damage. No, we'd just opened it the day before and used, perhaps, 2-3 sheets. We'll still be able to use it, but for the rest of the school year our drawing paper will be slightly warped along one edge.

This kind of classroom management stuff isn't taught in school; it's true on-the-job training. Even during my 3 years of "apprenticeship" while my daughter attended her cooperative preschools, I didn't really get much of a peek inside how these thing happen.

In other words, any of us who are in charge of our own budget for curriculum supplies, and often when we're not, make "mistakes," because that's what happens when people are learning. But if we were going to, say, try to really teach classroom management to prospective teachers while in school, and we're not going to go with a true system of apprenticeship, then we really need a course called Middle Class Bag Lady 101. It's what happens to us all in the end anyway. The more we get burned, the more we come to rely on the cheap, the free, the begged, and the borrowed to make our classrooms run . . . And, I suppose, to make up for those purchases of new stuff we still occasionally make, but that don't pan out.

For one thing, it drives us into dollar stores in droves, making them a regular preschool teacher haunt. While there recently I found electric toothbrushes, with batteries, for $1. I saw, as I'm sure you would, "paintbrushes." In fact, I'd long thought that these would make excellent art supplies, but at $5 a pop at the supermarket I wasn't about to drop 40 bucks on a classroom experiment. But this was a gamble I was willing to take.

One of the sad lessons of the dollar store is that if the deal is too good it probably is, so I purchased a few extras on the expectation that some of them simply wouldn't work as advertised. It turned out I was wrong about that. They all worked, at least after I fiddled around with them a bit, having to rearrange the battery contacts in a few of them.

As far as making fun art supplies, I'm glad I spent less than $10 on the whole lot. It wasn't not fun, but I got the distinct impression that the kids would have been just as happy with regular manual toothbrushes. In fact, many of the kids wanted theirs turned off as they painted. It wasn't a dud, but it wasn't nearly as exciting as I'd hoped.

We did learn one thing, however, that might bode well for their future. The 2-year-olds figured out that if you turn the things on and lay them on the table, they move on their own, making them a new kind of painting robot. Hmm . . . So that's probably where the toothbrushes will wind up, in our box of art robot supplies

So if you're here for wisdom grasshopper, here it is: always listen to your inner bag lady. She's a wonderful teacher and helps you make up for a world of other mistakes. She might even inspire you.

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Magic and Mayhem said...

I always love your ideas and your attitude, Tom. I really struggle with buying things from dollar stores in general though, because they come at such a high price in other ways (environmental and ethical for two, especially since so much is made in China by workers who are generally taken advantage of in horrifying ways). I try to shop instead at thrift stores, where things are just as cheap but I feel like I'm actually helping instead of contributing to the problem. In the case of bulk things like bunches of electric toothbrushes, I just don't know what the solution is. Do you ever struggle with this dilemma?

Teacher Tom said...

Yes, it's a dilemma, M & M. I don't buy a lot at dollar stores, but stretching the budget . . . I do systematically avoid Wal-Marts and Targets for those reasons, but I do pop into dollar stores (especially Daiso) on occasion. Thrift stores are great, of course!

Pip said...

oh so true. The £1 shop is my new best friend and we even have a 99p store across the road from one which we also pop in to! I just can't help myself!!!

indymom said...

I have figured this out recently with glue sticks...I purchased some glue sticks that don't really glue all that well, in the hope of saving some money for the school....sadly, since the glue sticks aren't all that gluey, we end up using MORE of them...lesson learned. Spend a few extra dollars on GOOD glue sticks so the kiddos aren't all sad that their things arent sticking.