It’s school supply season and a dangerous time for me to go into certain stores. A well-kept secret is the fact that it’s teachers more than students who go nuts for school supplies. I haven’t taught since that last disaster in Cut Bank and probably won’t ever again, at least in public schools, but that means nothing. I still get the itch this time of year. Some of the most intense sense memories of my life date back to the first years of public school.
One point of fascination was those long rows of lockers in the hall. in 1945 when I started school, I’d seen nothing like them before. I had the fantasy that one door -- impossible to tell which one -- would open into a competely different plane of existence, like maybe a tunnel down into the ground like the one the “Twelve Dancing Princesses” entered in their new shoes at night, only to dance so long and hard in the ballroom they found there that their shoes were in tatters when they returned at dawn. Or maybe the tunnel would simply go under Killingsworth street (the most dangerously named street I knew and truly murderous in terms of traffic) and come up in Alberta Park where some of the trees were said to be so ancient that Indians camped among them. (Actually, they were second growth on a homestead-era farm.)
Nowadays lockers are different in two different ways. First, they have become a source of danger, hiding drugs and weapons, in the same way as backpacks are so dangerous in some communities that students are only allowed to use clear plastic ones. Once in Heart Butte we had a bomb threat (from students who wanted to get out of school, but who knew that for sure?) and searched all lockers. Many were padlocked, so the janitor came along with us with bolt cutters. The worst thing we found was a locker jammed -- totally packed -- with pop cans that had been refilled with “snoose juice” from some student who chewed Copenhagen. We also found one heckuva lot of missing textbooks.
But we set off a firestorm in the community about privacy: were locker interiors the private domain of only the student? Or did everything on school property belong to the school (meaning the principal and superintendent, not the school board)? Kids who often lived with a lot of other kids at home (not all of them sibs) and had trouble maintaining private ownership -- or at least control -- of their personal objects were fanatic about their lockers belonging to them and only them. Luckily, we didn’t have to double up the assignments or there would have been the usual neatness vs. sloppy wars. And then there were the usual tempting opportunities to push some unlucky small colleague in there and smash the door shut on him -- almost always “him.’
One of the more effective administrators in Browning, a grad of that institution, combated student rebellion with a simple expedient: wiring all the lockers shut with a long cable too tough to cut. After a month of that, the kids usually admitted they were outgunned. An outsider administrator would have been tarred and feathered.
But back to school supplies. One entire category that has just been invented in the last few years is locker add-ons: little shelves that just fit, mirrors, bulletin boards, special hooks or magnet frames for photos. Some things are useful and others are strictly for decoration. Opening the doors of some lockers reveals a hidden kingdom all right. The girls’ lockers are like subsets of their bedrooms at home, often themed and constantly changed.
In Cut Bank where people stayed with their assigned lockers, one way of honoring achievers or at least the popular was by denoting their lockers with some kind of taped on emblem: top speller, athletic champ, leadership role. The same kids who would moan as though with fatal illness if required to do homework after school and who considered being kept after school an intolerable punishment, would stay for hours inventing such posterettes and figuring out where to stick them. But even in Cut Bank, the drug dog came to patrol the array of lockers -- a bow-legged old male golden lab guided by a young woman trainer -- and he was as likely to stop by a decorated locker as a plain one.
A veteran teacher once advised me that the best way to get along with any principal was to keep up your bulletin boards: bright colors, inventive themes, frequent changes, and esp. those store-bought borders and figures. I got a catalogue of them only the other day. (Staples hopes I’m still a teacher and will give me a special coupon if I am.) It was hard to throw my old hoard away.
In an era that considers a laptop computer a school supply, I’m still more in love with clever new pens -- my current favorite is a Pilot G-6 07: retractable, thick rubberized barrel with visible ink. I didn’t buy it and don’t know where it came from, but suddenly I value the thickness of its fit in my hand and the flow of the bold black ink. And I love those organization inventions, esp. the clear plastic ones that will group the post-its, the little tablets, the sheets of stickers, odd-sized envelopes, mailing labels.
At every spot in the house where I work (alongside the computer, reading chair, long work table, drop-leaf desk, kitchen table) there is a basket or open wooden box or ceramic cachepot that holds scissors, pens, pencils, a little ruler, a hole punch, several high-lighters, and other necessities. By my reading chair the basket holds interesting postcards for bookmarks. Sometimes I sort through to match the postcard to the book, but that’s sort of -- well, twee. Like the kids, one can be so caught up in the peripherals that the main enterprise gets lost. So I only keep a stapler and tape dispenser in each room, but they’re color-coded. And I can’t bear to throw away one inoperable stapler: it looks like a frog.
For a while I’ve been sorting my paperclips into a kind of faceted jam jar that comes with a plaid top, but I can’t have jam anymore so that breaks the parade. Maybe that was excessive anyway.
But if I had a lot of money, I’d transcend “school supply” syndrome with a running account at Levenger, the outfit that makes luxury leather desk and reading equipment. In the meantime, today the Dick Blick Art Supplies catalogue came. Now THAT has possibilities!