I sighed as I looked at my fourth grader’s tattered trashcan. I had given them each a trashcan (a gift bag with the handles removed) at the beginning of the year, and this one was already falling apart. Really, all of them were somewhat worn looking, but this one badly needed to be replaced.
I headed for the store that night, my mind running over my mental list of what I needed.
I might as well get them all new trashcans. They are all so tattered they could all stand replacing.
Then something clicked in my brain. An old forgotten file opened up, and remnants of a writing assignment I had done in high school floated back to me.
Miss Elaine sighed as she turned from her metal desk. The sound of flies buzzing at the windows grated on her nerves. The smell of sweat overwhelmed her and she wished for a fan. But what good would it do here, with no electricity outlets nearby to run it?
She saw the smudged papers on the desks of her third graders and wished that she could buy them each a new notebook. But here in Haiti, money was always scarce and saved for the bare necessities, like food.
She sighed to herself again. She should be grateful that they didn’t have to have more than two children to a textbook. Some schools had to share a few books between dozen or more children. Thanks to the bundles from CAM, this school had more than most.
* * * * * * *
Miss Hannah sighed as she sank into her soft swivel chair. She rubbed the shiny wooden finish on her desk. The sound of the humming AC unit grated on her nerves. The smell of Miss Sara’s candle wafting through the air vents overwhelmed her. She wished that she didn’t have to share an air system with the teacher next door. She wished that she could at least have the thermostat in her room so she could control the temperature.
She glanced at her third graders working diligently and quietly at their desks. Their notebooks were bent from several weeks of use. She made a note on her list. “Get new notebooks.”
She sighed again because she would have to make a trip to the store tonight, and then she would have to remember to fill out a voucher for the bill.
Maybe those notebooks would have been good enough to last till the end of the year, but she liked things in her classroom looking nice. The old notebooks could be sent home or saved for drawing in.
Several hours later, as she stopped by the mailbox for the mail, she noticed a flyer from CAM. She dropped it in a trashcan without a second thought. Then she sat at the kitchen table and started printing the first name on the new notebooks.
I couldn’t remember the whole project. Just that the assignment compared one person’s needs to another person’s wants. I remembered the contrast of the two teachers, and it haunted me now. Time had moved on since high school, and almost 4 years later, I was now contemplating the needs of nine students. Was I the discontented teacher? Did all my students really need new trashcans?
I left the store a half hour later. One lone gift bag lay on the seat beside me as I drove home. That was all the store had. It really didn’t matter, I had decided. They didn’t all need new trashcans.
It seemed to be a minute detail. After all, who cares if I spend four dollars on new trashcans? And yet I couldn’t forget it. And I still wonder, would I have passed the test if the store would have had exactly what I wanted? Did I really pass the test?
CONTRIBUTOR: Judith King