Sunday, November 10, 2013

Trash Cans and Gratitude

Trash Cans and Gratitude 

Hi Everyone! Melissa Gross here. It is such an honor and a pleasure to be able to share with you today during Lynn’s focus on gratitude and thankfulness as we head into the holiday season.

If you had asked me what I was grateful for as the 2005-06 school year began, I’m positive trash cans would not have been on the list. However, trash cans played a large part in my life that year, and looking back now I can honestly say that I’m grateful for those trash cans.

I was beginning my second year as a technology and careers teacher at a middle school in East Texas. That same year I was also taking night courses to complete my master’s degree, which meant most days I had to leave the middle school campus when the final bell rang in time to make it to my night class. It was going to be a busy year, so I didn’t think much about it when I first learned that I was awarded lunch duty on “A” days. Basically I had to monitor the lunch room every other day for 30 minutes that year.

The assistant principal met me at the door my first day of lunch duty to explain my assignment. It seemed pretty simple at first; I could stand at the front of the lunchroom or walk around and simply watch to be sure the students were following the lunchroom rules. About 10 minutes before lunch ended, the assistant principal came over to me pushing one of those large 55 gallon plastic trash cans on wheels.

“We don’t want everyone trying to throw their trash away as they leave the lunchroom when the bell rings.” He said, “It causes a huge traffic jam, so, we just push these up and down the aisles and let students throw their trash away during these last few minutes.”

My first thoughts went something like this - Seriously!?! He wants me to push a trash can! I am a certified teacher; I have a degree in business management; I am only a few courses away from having an MBA; I am in my nice slacks, cute blouse and heels; I am not a garbage man; I am not getting paid enough to do trash duty every other day for nine months!

Of course, I did not verbalize these thoughts. I simply pushed the trash can up and down between the long rows of tables while students threw in their trash. I’m ashamed to say that I maintained this attitude for quite a while; especially on those days when a student threw in a half full milk carton that splashed up and out of the trash can onto my cute blouse or brushed their messy ice cream wrapper against my arm as they tried to get it in the can! However, I realized along the way that God was working in my life through this experience and my attitude changed to one of gratitude.

As I look back on that year, I can now say that …

·        I am grateful that I was able to get to know the students on a more informal level during lunch time.
·        I am grateful for the conversations I overheard as I pushed that trash can up and down the rows of tables, making me more aware of my students’ achievements and struggles.
·        I am grateful I had an excuse not to spend lunch in the teacher’s lounge where complaining and gossip were the norm.
·        I am grateful for the youth pastor who came each week and ate lunch with the students. What a wonderful example of a shepherd tending his flock.
·        I am grateful that I did not have after-school duty, which would have made me late for my night classes at the university.
·        I am grateful that I witnessed students inviting new students (evacuees relocated after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans) to sit with them at lunch.
·        I am grateful for the stories I heard of how my students and their families and churches pulled together after our town was filled to overflowing when Hurricane Rita hit the Gulf Coast.
·        I am grateful for the 8th grader who offered to push the trash can for me the day he knew I wasn’t feeling well.
·        I am grateful that God loved me enough to teach me humility and gratitude in the midst of my work day.
·        I am grateful that I was awarded lunch duty and honored with the task of pushing the trash can!

Thanks Lynn for letting me share my lesson about gratitude today!


  1. That's a good story Melissa. This morning I was talking to my Mum and she said she was actually grateful for her MS because it meant she was getting lots of care and company and she realises that lots of women her age are on their own a lot of the time. That made me think!

  2. Lynn, I'm so glad you asked me to be a part of this series because I've wanted to document this story for a long time!

  3. Melissa, I love this story. I have re-read it several times and I always find a new way to be thankful! Thank you!

  4. Sometimes finding the gratitude in the mundane or less-than-pleasant can be quite tricky! It is a skill I am still trying to learn. I think you did a great job of learning gratitude while pushing around a trash can!

  5. Wonderful post Melissa. Isn't it amazing what good things come from something WE think is so bad. I really enjoyed reading your story!

  6. Yes, I think you learned a very important lesson. Kudos for being a student as well as a teacher. Our Pastor could have told you that, he insists on trash duty at all our church dinners and the big annual Fish Fry. He says its the easiest way to get around to see and talk to everyone.