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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Reflections of a School Year

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator

I went to fill up my stapler the other day and realized that I was down to my last refill from a box of five-thousand staples. It shocked me that I had used so many staples. What in the world had I used five-thousand staples for? Then I started reflecting on what staples were used for in my classroom. At the beginning of the year, I use the stapler to decorate the walls and bulletin boards with Spanish blankets, posters, maps, and colorful banners. I wanted to create an atmosphere in which the students would feel more prone to speak Spanish.

I remember feeling perturbed at constantly re-stapling the low-hanging decorations on the walls that had over time been bumped and nudged loose and specifically making the punishment fit the crime and handing the stapler over to students who were too curious, or rambunctious with the classroom decorations so they could hang them up again. When state testing time came around, I had to hang butcher paper (at least it was colorful) to cover all of the Spanish words, posters, maps, and student work that might give a student an advantage on the test (seriously?). As rewards and recognition, I frequently gave the stapler to students to hang up their exceptional work.

As many teachers, I began the year with the stapler sitting on the corner of my desk. I remember I felt chagrined, also like many teachers, that I had to put the stapler in my file cabinet when I was not using it because for some reason my middle school students felt like they needed to staple everything (and everyone) and of course, one staple is never enough. It always amazed me that a student who could not find the attention span to concentrate on conjugating a verb could focus so intently to repair a broken pencil by stapling the two pieces together. Speaking of amazement, in my box of glue sticks I even found that a student had effectively stapled the cap of a glue stick so that no one could open it. Now students have to ask for the stapler if they feel they need to staple their student ID, staple the hem of their jeans, or staple their backpack closed.

Throughout the year, I used the stapler to combine papers when the copy machine stapler was not functioning, or when I pushed the wrong buttons and ended up with hundreds of uncollated copies. I stapled to keep students assignments together and even to keep class papers to be returned together when I ran low of paperclips, which I also had to hide because students loved to connect them in mile long chains. I stapled notes to be sent home to parents, on assigned work while students stapled extra credit post-its to their exams because they had lost their stickiness. I stapled confiscated love notes and obscene drawings to referrals for discipline purposes and I stapled progress reports to be sent home to parents.

After reflecting on the good and the bad of stapling, it was easy to see where all the staples had gone. In the business of teaching and learning, and five-thousand staples later, while the lowly stapler only played a minor supporting role, it still kept things together, which is incredibly important.

Yet if the stapler could talk (and was not hidden in my cabinet half the year) what would say? Would it tell wondrous stories of vocabulary musical chairs, or Simon Says games that helped students learn vocabulary? Would it laud the patience of a long-suffering teacher for dealing with less than cooperative students?

Hopefully, it would testify of my dedication to help students be successful in tutoring before and after school, and his missed lunches due to lunch detention and... ZAP! Hmmm. I think perhaps I should be nicer to my stapler and take it out of the cabinet from now on so perhaps it will not remember the times that I lost control and raised my voice, or was less than patient with students.

As this year winds to a close, what would you want your stapler to tell about your classroom? Please share below.

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator
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Comments (4)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Christine Marie Lunney-Jaffe's picture

As an elementary (3rd gr.) teacher, I have many tools - staplers (7 or 8?) available to the students at all times. The year commences with the black, or silver metal instrument and their ammunition, and everything else we use play an invaluable role in stitching together a fruitful year of exploration (yes, sometimes bloody...), investigation, and literally help us co-construct knowledge. They sit with their 'cohort ' on our production shelf which houses the usual suspects of knowledge implements: glue - white & stick, assorted scissors - multiple kinds, some with snazzy blades such as pinking shears or fancy swirly cuts, and paper clips - two sizes, various types of tape - masking, blue painter's & cello (all but one of the six cello-tape dispensers are now empty - we have 17 more days...), felt tip markers, highlighters, & paint brushes in various thicknesses, a tin of rulers, basket of erasers, fully sharpened pencils - grey lead & colored, and the somewhat regularly full jam-jar of pencils desperate to be cared for. There's probably more stuff - oh yeah, sticky notes too! We laugh when we have to 'feed the monsters' and as you have written, sometimes wonder where have all the staples gone? They've transported my kiddos from working in the classroom to far away places, held together heartwarming notes, magical stories written and shared together, permission slips, and the discipline notes. The stapler is the beginning.

Teacher607's picture
Teacher607
Seventh & Eighth grade CTE Arkansas

I always have the student that wants to staple his finger. Really?!? Several years ago one student did staple his finger and asked me for a band aid. *blank stare*

Lina Raffaelli's picture
Lina Raffaelli
Community Engagement Intern at Edutopia
Staff

A funny yet insightful piece. I especially laughed at the part about students the stapling backpacks and random items. I enjoyed reading your thoughtful reflection on the journey of a school year from start to finish.

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