Attention Shoppers: English Class on Aisle #14

Bewildered, confused, overwhelmed, excited, relieved, optimistic, frustrated, bitter, envious, amused, creative, entertained, innovative, exhausted. . . . If you wonder what it’s like teach at Orchard Supply Hardware, or OSH, I’d say it depends on the time of day you ask.

Now, after two weeks at OSH, it’s starting to feel normal. Almost.  That’s the reality for our approximately 35 staff members, 160 students, and a handful of confused shoppers who have wandered into our school/store. Lunch is served at registers 5 and 6, our office staff are at Customer Service and PE is in the Garden Center. In two weeks on Aisle #14, I’ve learned a lot:

  1. Teaching in a warehouse without walls is like living in a house with all of your colleagues. We try to be polite, to share, but every so often someone loses it. For example, if a teacher’s shopping cart full of supplies disappears, it can push someone over the edge.  Of course we apologize daily as well. And we laugh a lot. There sure is a lot of material around us to keep us chuckling.
  2. Sound echoes. We are used to using our teacher voices to do our jobs, but when your neighbors are just an aisle or two away, it’s a challenge. We are having to wear voice projectors with speakers at our waists for our classes. The word “cacophony” has been used more than once by colleagues.
  3. Schedule-schmedule. It took us about a week to figure out a daily schedule. Ok, truth, we’re still trying to work out the kinks! We didn’t have a clue how many students would show up the first day. In our circumstances- being relocated with students’ living situations often in transition- it’s hard to require pre-registration.  The good part: no bells!
  4. Single vs double wide dreams.  On the first day, Sherry (my teaching partner) said we were like flight attendants teaching in an airplane’s walkway on aisle 5. Moving further away from a large class, we relocated to aisle 14. There was even an electrical outlet in the nearby fan section so we duct taped our extension cord across three rows. After two weeks: we removed the bolts of a nearby aisle and bumped out to a double-wide. . . aisle. Dreams can come true!
  5. Shopping carts are a bonus. One morning, I had loaded up a green OSH cart with donated books from my car. Traveling to my “class,” I paused, looking carefully in the crossroads, and watched as Jess, our PE teacher, zoomed towards me with her shopping cart filled with PE gear from the other direction. “Good morning” we said and went on our way, collision avoided.
  6. Our students are resilient. They showed up, some nervous,  many happy to see their friends, and joined us in this unconventional school. Most hadn’t been in a school routine since November 8th. After gathering in our 7th grade learning space, we immediately realized we couldn’t hear anything with the large 8th grade group on the other side of our makeshift paper wall. Our students followed us to our aisles, pulled up the rented chairs, and used shelves as desks. “It’s like building a fort,” said one girl. “We can make a cardboard roof,” said another. I love their attitudes!
  7. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride of emotions. Initially, I was very frustrated that our staff was expected to make a hardware store into a school by ourselves. We didn’t have desks, curriculum, wifi, and even electrical outlets were scarce. I now realize that relocating almost an entire school district after a fire is extremely difficult, especially when the rest of the town has been displaced too. I’m ready to move forward, to embrace the adventure, and to teach our kids on this crazy journey.

We laugh a lot together these days. Pat, a sixth grade teacher, has christened it P’OSH (aka Paradise Intermediate School at the OSH store). Greg, his teaching partner, even got us all OSH hats on e-Bay. Laughter helps. No matter how challenging each day is, I know I can count on laughing with my work family . . . . it’s the unexpected treasure in our hardware school/store.

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Author: Erica Blaschke

I am a middle school English and technology teacher from Chico, CA and have traveled the Skyway to teach in Paradise for the past 16 years. A fast moving wildfire changed the lives of our entire community on November 8th when the #campfire destroyed the town. We are now redefining what school and learning can be as we start over, unable to return.

4 thoughts

  1. I am so proud of the residents of Paradise and the teachers from Paradise Unified! You are an amazing group of people and a powerful witness to others who have to deal with disaster! And, I wish the whole world could see your resilience!

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