Monday, July 20, 2009

From the Archives: I Was a Paper Junkie

Originally posted April 30, 2009

I was a paper junkie.

My first year teaching, I was so scared of speeding through a lesson and not having something for the students to do that I used to run off several copies of "fun" assignments each day (crosswords, games, whatever I could scrounge up each morning from the old file cabinet in the closet I'd inherited as an office). This inevitably added up to two or three sheets of paper per student per day. And this would be stuff I'd never even see again once I'd handed it out. I'm not even counting the handouts I'd work up for the day's lesson.

But, I was a paper junkie.

That first year teaching, we had a copy limit of somewhere between 10 and 15 thousand copies per teacher. I think I maxed out in January.

Like I said: I was a paper junkie.

I used to pride myself on the physical weight of my mid-term and final exams. Students in my Latin classes used to complain about their hands cramping up and I'd boast about the 22 page final exam I'd written in Greek History class back in college.

I was unrepentant.

When I came to my present school, I found three copy machines whereas my previous school only had two for almost twice as large a faculty. I was in heaven.

I once made a copy of a seventeen page annotated version of T.S. Eliot's 'The Wasteland' for each student in all five sections of the American Lit class I was teaching at the time. (I hope the statute of limitations is over for that one...).

But I think the most egregious use of paper came when I used to run off fresh copies of everyone's poems in Poetry Club so that we could all mark 'em up during workshops. I easily made a half-dozen copies of each poem per each one student in that club. In other words, each student would wind up with six copies of the exact same poem. And we used to read lots of poems.

But I was a paper junkie.

I used to print out copies of ebooks. (I remember that at that first school, I'd been given a curriculum guide on CD and I actually decided to print the whole thing).

I used to print out my grades in triplicate.

I used to forget to fill the toner cartridge in my desktop printer and have to go back and reprint dozens of copies of a twelve-page test.

I even got a special card from the office supply store to make copies in bulk.

And then I woke up.

I think it was the year our school moved to 1:1 computing. No one in administration suggested not using paper (in fact, I don't think any of them had even heard the term 'blog' at that point). None one on the facilities staff said anything (and they were the guys who hauled in those ton-sized pallets stacked with reams). I think it was really just a matter of me sitting down and playing around with this new laptop and before long realizing that I'd written hundreds of pages worth of notes and ideas and meeting minutes and lesson plans and hadn't printed a single piece of paper.

And why hadn't I printed anything from my new laptop?

Because I couldn't figure out how to.

That's how this whole foray into paperlessness began. It wasn't that I was some tech wizard. I certainly wasn't all that environmentally conscious. I barely used the Internet with the exception of reading bulletin boards and getting my morning news.

Rather, the reason I got into paperlessness was because I was too dumb to figure out how to hook a printer up to my new laptop and too stubborn to ask the IT department to do it for me.

I totally slacked my way into paperlessness.

It was only once I was there that I realized what had happened. And then the epiphany came: "Hey buddy," my mind said to me, "you don't really need paper to teach a class".

And so, I didn't go back. And over the last three years, I've been on a crazy journey where I've easily saved over 40,000 sheets of paper. And that doesn't even count the paper my kids have saved in my class. Whereas I used to like to brag that kids would burn through two notebooks over the course of my AP Latin class, now not a single notebook ever needs be opened.

Just for fun today, I cut-and-pasted the contents of a single student blog into Word. This was a blog that a student in my Latin II class has kept this year. So we're talking from September to April. When that blog popped up in 12pt font as a Word document, it turned out to be 107 pages long.

107 pages.

Written by a 15 year old.

In one class.

If nothing else, my experience with a paperless classroom has proven to me demonstrably that there is just so much waste that we take for granted in education. And it's an ongoing eyeopening experience for me to see just how much a change a little change can make.

The old me never understood that. But he was a paper junkie.

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