December 16, 2008

Teaching Students to Recycle

As a first-year public school teacher in Brooklyn, I learned quickly that if I was to survive in this position, it was going to be tough. I first turned to my colleagues; all of them seasoned teachers with 10+ years of experience. Apparently, being a first year teacher is much like entering a fraternity, and I was going through the hazing process. All I wanted was paper, was that so hard?

I soon realized that I was not going to get much in the way of paper, other than what I was willing to purchase. I did what I could for the first few months, but when test prep started, I was using a lot of paper. It was then that I decided it was time my students learn about recycling.

My school did not have a recycling program. I started a “recycle bin” for scrap paper and encouraged students to use it. I taught them about recycling, why it’s important to them and their community. Within the first few weeks, students would make a mistake on their paper and instead of crumpling up their paper; they turned it over and used the other side.

One day one of my students saw me taking home two bags and stopped me to inquire what I was doing. I told her I was taking our recycled paper somewhere it would be recycled properly. She was amazed that I did this but I told her as a teacher, how could I tell them to recycle and then not do it myself. A few weeks later, she was walking to school with a bag of her own bottles. I asked her what she was doing. She asked if I knew where they recycle bottles.

How else can we teach the importance of recycling to students?

This blog was written by Matthew Reid, volunteer blogger with the Literacy ‘n’ Poverty Project. A native New Yorker, Matthew now lives in Boston and works for a math curriculum development company. Please leave your comments or email

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