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Travis Wittwer | Current Affairs, Education Policy | October 16, 2012

The Paper


By Travis A. Wittwer 8088082266_c5ee72d6ec_n

Paper. A school is dependent on paper. This thin, white, innocuous object has value beyond what is initially seen. Paper marks the flow of ideas and learning throughout the school. It is hard to imagine a school without paper. Yet, each year imagining a school without paper becomes easier to imagine.

Paper is an indicator species for resources in the school. Paper represents the health and strength of the school. Paper is symbolic of other resources within the school such as writing utensils, novels, additional support in the library, or clubs to create school culture. 

Paper, and that for which it represents, is another item I will include on my list of Invisibles

People who spend their time outside of a school may call out, "Do more with less! Less paper!" It sounds good when you are the person saying it, and I am all for doing more with less. However, for many schools there even less than less, to even do more with. In this case, telling a school to "Do more with less" is like telling a kid to "Be more content with less love." 

Ya, kid. Why are you so greedy.

The school environment is an awe inspiting ecosystem. There is so much going on within it that it is impossible to understand it all. After 15 years of teaching, I am still amazed. If one part of the system is weak, other parts come in and fill the need. This is, in essence, good. However, at some point, the resources will be so depleted that there will not be anyone able to come in and fill the need. 

So back to the paper. I teach English and my 9th graders write a minimum of two multi-drafted, well crafted, critical analysis essays in a semester. In doing this, we use a great deal of paper. The paper is not wasted. The paper is used for drafting, editing, revision, redrafting. The paper is used in the learning process.

153 students with an average of 5 pages in their superb essay is 765 pages. Take that 765 and double it for a mid draft and final draft, and it becomes 1530. This is several reams of paper, and only for one of those district required essays. Some would see this as a place to "Do more with less!" but the act of using this paper for drafting and revision, editing and formatting is so important, and at this age level, it cannot be done soley on a computer. 

And so I buy paper. I buy paper with my own money because I believe in the power gained by marking on drafts. The power my students see in watching their ideas develop on paper.

This is an invisible part of my class and I have shared it with you, hopefully making it not quite so invisible.


This post is part of October's theme of Invisibles. "Invisibles" is a general term for all of the unseen things that teachers do to keep the education machine running. The goal of October is to bring several of these Invisibles to light so that people outside of the school setting have a clear idea of what it is like inside the school. 


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I think I've shared this before, but it bears repeating here. A few years ago my son brought home a geometry test (test!) which was printed on a quarter sheet of paper, for economic reasons. The test required him to use a protractor to measure angles on triangles that were smaller than my fingernails.

For crying out loud. This nation can do better.


Mark, agreed. Absolutely true. Students need to interact with learning. After reading your comment, and your use of "battle," I was struck by how paper is relentlessly regimented. Then you mentioned the copier counts. I am aware that some schools share out the teachers copy counts each month to the school or wing of the school. Why? What purpose does that serve? What math teacher in another part of the school wants copy count numbers of my use for the month? I delete the email each month and guess many teachers do.

Mark Gardner

One of the major battles waged recently in my neck of the woods has had to do with copies and paper usage by staff (for students, of course). Sometimes there is no substitute for putting a copy of something in a kid's hand--and letting them interact with it--whether it is a poem, an article, a graphic organizer...they need that resource, even if seems like something easy to "trim" from a school's budget.

Kristin, I had not thought of watching student resources as an indicator of a future reality. Clear. That is going to make me think for a few days and how that can be applied to other areas of society.

I think teachers are an indicator species for the economy. Before numbers make the news, they hit the teacher's bank account. Years ago I knew we were sliding into a recession because suddenly fewer of my students had binders, pens, lined notebook paper. More of my students were chronically hungry, especially if their parents weren't equipped to navigate the complicated paperwork required to get their child free lunch and breakfast.

Before politicians were even talking about the economy, I was buying cases of Cup O'Noodles and packs of notebook paper.

And paper for basic curriculum - you're right that it's necessary. It's even more necessary when instead of having workbooks or class sets of books we're creating curriculum by copying it.

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