The art of throwing paper towel rolls in supermarkets

A year ago I took a hiatus from writing this blog to concentrate on returning to the classroom as a math and science teacher. I hadn’t taught science in a number of years, and being in a new district I knew it would be a demanding year. My blog has always been a joy for me, and an expressive outlet; I didn’t want it to become a burden.

Now it is August again, and a new school year approaches. This blog has evolved from being exclusively related to education (it was originally The Unrealized Maine Classroom) to being more about interacting and adapting in a changing, increasingly weird world. Writing a blog means I add a deadline to my life, but it’s a necessary kind of burden, and the world has gotten too interesting to abandon the conversation now.

Here’s what I mean by necessary burden. In everything I have ever done that has earned a paycheck, I have only succeeded at working hard, setting goals and achieving them if I am entirely on board with the mission behind those goals. In other words, I have to believe in what I am doing, or else my enthusiasm, work ethic and ultimately output, wanes. This means I was a fairly lousy laborer as a teen, and it means I was an inconsistent student at that age as well. While my attitude as a teenage employee did introduce me to the pure joy that is tossing paper towel rolls football-style down the length of a supermarket aisle (it is so fun!), doing things strictly the way someone else wanted me to do them for a purpose that did not immediately improve the world or make clear sense to me was agony. The struggle was real, so fronting shelves turned into re-enacting Doug Flutie’s epic 62 yard game-ending touchdown pass in the paper towel aisle, again and again.

Recently I reflected upon what influences my work ethic as a math and science teacher today, in my forties. I show up early and leave late most days, and like most teachers, I put in a lot of hours during nights, weekends, summer and vacation weeks, mostly to make sure I’m on my game and my students get a meaningful education. But other things keep me motivated in my work too, like teaching the importance of seeking and utilizing sound evidence in experimentation and problem solving.

Evidence. If there is one concept I’d like my students to finish the school year firmly understanding, it’s that scientists and problem solvers base their conclusions on sound evidence. In fact, doctors and lawyers also rely on sound evidence to carry out their daily duties, and evidence plays a crucial role in any other professions too, including professional sports. Using sound evidence also helps us solve problems not just at work, but when we make investments and big purchases, when we make major life decisions, when we shop for weekly groceries, when we choose the perfect day to go to the beach, and when we go into the voting booth.

Emphasizing the importance of evidence in decision making brings me joy in my professional life, and it will be fulfilling to explore and reflect on that topic in the coming weeks to kick off the reboot of The Unrealized Republic.

James Tatum Gale

About James Tatum Gale

I have been a teacher in Maine schools for twelve years, and a writer and musician since childhood. I acquired a Master's degree in Teaching from USM, and a Certificate in Math Leadership from UMF. My undergraduate degree is in Philosophy with a concentration in Comparative Religion from the University of Maine (1994). I live with my wife, Erin, and my dog, Sally, in Bowdoinham.