I know that sometimes people can seem ungrateful or just plain ignorant, but you have to remember that these are people with nothing. Let me elaborate on that. Many people have pride in something. They have some sense of independence that probably stems from their ability to perform a service.
- If you take pride in your style, then remember that if you are poor, you have no style. This is a blow to ego.
- If you take pride in your beauty, then remember that not everyone fits the stereotypical image of beauty and if you are poor, you don't have the means or time to make yourself beautiful anyway. Another blow to your ego.
- If you take pride in being able to cook good food, well, then remember that if you are poor you probably can't get all of the food materials that you want. The food you put out is only a reflection of what materials you have. You might be a very good cook, but if you don't have good materials, then what can you really make that is truly considered good?
- If you take pride in being a good parent, then maybe that is because you had some education or because you have the type of job that allows you time to be with your children. Chances are that if you are poor you have neither the education nor the job that allows you to come home to your children with the patience and understanding that they need. Now you can't even take pride in being a good parent. At this point, you probably resent yourself for not trying harder.
- If you don't talk in a public place the way everyone expects you to, you probably don't take pride in that. In fact you might resent yourself a little more for not paying more attention in English class.
- If you don't have a job, you probably resent yourself a lot for not being able to provide for your family and be a useful member of society. The guilt can become maddening and yet, who can you share this with who won't mock you or on whom all of this won't just fall deafly?
As you lose privileges in life, your self-esteem gets chipped away little by little. You put yourself in humiliating situations that seem outrageous at the time until they become the norm. Every humiliating situation chips away at your sense of worth until you get to the point where you have none left. You just don't give a damn about anything. You couldn't give a damn, even if you tried. For some, this is the point where they do drastic and regrettable things.
I can't get angry at that couple on the bus. They are probably going through a hard life.
How does this relate to the first day of school?
At my first school I had to purchase all of the materials for my students. If I wanted them to take notes, I had to buy them notebooks and pens. If I wanted them to calculate, I had to buy them calculators. I had to buy everything: rulers, erasers, notebook paper, binders, etc. When you buy all of this for thirty children, IT BECOMES A LOT OF MONEY.
I started paying attention to the penny sales by Staples, Walgreens, Rite Aid, Office Depot, etc. I started hoarding as many supplies as I could in anticipation of materials being lost.
It broke my heart even more when I would hear my students say, "I lost my notebook" or "I forgot it". The worst cases were the ones where the student was absent and I found the materials on the floor thrown away like a forgotten, broken toy.
I was then moved to another school where most students could afford their own materials. In this case, it was only the neediest students who didn't have the materials. I always provided some materials, but the students were always ashamed of them.
It wasn't until recently, when I was experiencing some financial hardship that I made the connection: you don't want a handout; you want to EARN it. That is the pride of this life: to be able to make your own way in the world. Basically, I had to make payments on my taxes along with bills and rent. This ate most of my paycheck. This second half of August has been the worst month of them all and the situation has been pretty bleak since June. Friends were kind and offered to loan me money, but maybe because I lived in poverty in my childhood I felt slightly insulted. I know they meant well, but I could NOT take a loan of money from a friend. I could NOT.
Maybe if things got desperate enough I would ask for money, but how could I when I saw this as another adventure?
Today marks the 16th day where I have not spent a single cent of money. Yes, my bills are getting automatically deducted from my bank account, but I have not spent a single cent on food or on anything personal. I simply don't have room for that in the budget. I remember being terrified a week or so ago when I ran out of toilet paper. I remember thinking, "HOW WILL I MANAGE TO GET OUT OF THIS ONE?! HOW, Macgyver, HOW?"
Thankfully, sometime in May I had purchased a giant package of toilet paper with 24 rolls. Yes, I go through toilet paper slowly enough to have forgotten this fact. I had disassociated it because it was under the kitchen sink and not in the bathroom. Saved, but holy cow that was HORRIFYING.
I would rather steal toilet paper than ask a friend to loan me a roll. That is how proud I am.
I've been reflecting on my situation a lot and I've come to the conclusion that many students who need supplies are not going to ask for them and even if you give it to them, they won't really take ownership of it. The object will forever be a reminder of that shame.
How many times have I asked a student, "Why didn't you go on that field trip?" and the answer was, "because I couldn't afford it." I always reply with, "they provide help for those students who can't afford it" and the student just shakes his/her head. I think they don't have the words to tell me that maybe what they felt was a little shame.
When it comes to school supplies, I still have that hoard. For a little while I thought about selling them off. After all, even selling them for $0.25 would turn a profit since I had purchased everything for pennies. Desperate times call for desperate measures, but I wasn't desperate enough to sell these items that my students might need.
Today I had a good idea: instead of pointing out needy students and gently asking them if they wanted some school supplies, why not give them the opportunity to earn them?
The first day of school is always tough to plan. All of my ideas seem old and tired. I've done this or that a million times already. Ok, I've only been teaching a few years, but those ideas make me feel like i've tried it a million times. Maybe my students haven't seen those tricks yet, but then I would be bored and when the teacher gets bored, the students can sense it.
On the first day or maybe even the first couple of days, I plan on playing science games with my students like playing science trivia and making them do silly challenges. The prizes that you can win are, you guessed it: School supplies. In addition to normal school supplies, I have also accumulated silly things like butterfly-shaped post-its and funny pencils.
Winning is something to boast about. There is nothing to boast about if you feel like your teacher feels sorry for you and gave you something out of pity. Wouldn't it be great if you were a student and you were able to get all of your supplies for free and say that you EARNED them?