Tampons–never discussed, but central to middle and high school life.

Tampons are no joke, unless you’re a middle school boy. Then, they’re hilarious. I’ve seen boys take girls’ purses and backpacks, wave them around, “You’ve got your period!”

Many of high school girls would punch out any boy who did that, more are still too mortified. It’s joking matter. I still remember a girl on my middle school basketball team who had a pad fall out during a game. That memory stays alive forever.  I want to save every girl from that situation if humanly possible.

That’s why I created the tampon drawer.

If you’re a new teacher or a female teacher who remembers your own horror story or a male teacher with sisters, you understand.

But if you’ve ever said, “Just go to the nurse,” as if it were a nuisance or failed to empathize, here’s how to get full feeling.

Go into class tomorrow and pour water on the front side of your pants. Teach like that all day, no explanation. Your embarrassment will be a fraction what happens to a teen girl unprepared for her period.

How to recognize “The Emergency”

“Can I go to the lav” means one of three things. 1. You’re boring. 2. I’m going to meet my friends. 3. I really, really have to use the lav.

My philosophy is this–in most good jobs (except teaching) employees can go to the bathroom whenever they need to. There’s no bell to interrupt your daily conference. When you’re done, you return to work. That’s the world I’m training students for. Be responsible. And for God’s sake, wash your hands.

Schools aren’t like that, though. Today, most are on lockdown. Passes and sign in sheets are interruptive. And no one wants to say, “Can I have a pass, I got my period,” if you’re the type of teacher who says, “Wait to the bell.”

I learned to spot “the emergency” and set clear lav policies. “Go, be responsible, and come back. If you abuse my generosity, I will make you stand there and hold it until you graduate.” 95% of kids, given that freedom, take one long trip to the lav to test it out and never abuse it again.

The tampon drawer saved me from this:

Here’s the typical situation.  A girl goes to the bathroom and fails to return. She texts her friends to rescue her, but since I can’t have people partying in the lav, I might ask Girl 2 to wait. Girl 2 can’t wait until Girl 1 returns, because Girl 1 needs to be rescued.  Girl 2 will shout out if it’s a toilet paper situation–this happened all the time. “Miss, there’s no toilet paper in the lav. Can I go help…”

Yes, indeed. Get your good karma points. But a good friend doesn’t want to shout out that it’s a tampon rescue.

Often a girl will ask to go to the nurse. This is not ideal. Any trip to the nurse is an automatic 30-minute delay of game. You might as well consider them absent. They’re not coming back. And at our school for a while tampons were 25 cents. Any girl who forgot her tampon probably forgot her quarter.

The tampon drawer solved girls from crisis and me from having to reteach classes. No more disruptions, mortified kids, or messes left in the classroom disrupting the next class, too.

You need a “Tampon Drawer.”

The bottom left desk drawer of my desk is The Tampon Drawer.

My first year teaching, I had a teak box on a bookshelf. It had everything–extra pencils, pens, band aids, and female supplies. I created The Tampon Drawer when I found a freshman boy peeling open a tampon to reveal the mystery and two others sword fighting before class.

The Tampon Drawer’s not only tampons–it has sanitary napkins, pantyliners, a couple brown sandwich bags (for privacy) and “good band aids” because the nurse’s don’t stick and I don’t want to lose Paper Cut Kid to the nurse vortex any more than I want to lose Girl with Period.

In the beginning of the year, I give a classroom tour.  “Female items are here. Band Aids, too. Get them if you need them. Go to the lav. Your friends can what they need, too.”

Girls float in, heads down, come to the drawer, and leave. Girls get up during class, go to the desk, and leave for a minute. No one abuses this. I find them at the desk when I’m away from the room during lunch or an open period–it’s always allowed. If my door is locked, they know they can go through the class next door.

But you told me not to spend…

Yes. And I will continue to say this. Don’t spend your paycheck on your class, especially if you have debt. You can do this without spending.  Even if you have just a ziplock bag with a few items taken from home or a couple samples you beg the nurse to give you (and many will if you ask nicely), you’re good.

This is my one regular exception to the “no spend” rule. It’s a serious issue, and to the girls I save from this embarrassment, it’s a big deal.

By acknowledging The Drawer, I’m teaching the guys, too. I’m demystifying the period. For too long it’s been taboo. In some places girls are separated during this time, considered unclean. There’s a lot of historical, social and cultural baggage around this for teens.

It’s also an income differentiator. In poor regions of the world girls skip school when they have their periods. If their families have to decide between food and female supplies–they pick food.

But recently, I was shocked to hear a US principal say, “That happens in my school. Girls stay home when they have their period.”

I know a lot about food insecurity–one of five kids in my state doesn’t have a reliable source of healthy food. I never once thought that carried over to female supplies since I had a tampon drawer–even when girls would say, “I’m gonna take a couple for later.”  I never put too much thought into it. I should have. School should have.

Variety is the spice of life

When you make your tampon drawer, get some variety in there. Put in different sizes of tampons and pads. Not to be graphic here, but different girls have different needs. Some girls can’t use tampons, and others are too young to know about them. Pads range from light and small, to “grandma’s diapers.”  My students choose them all.

You should have the following, minimum:

  1. Light, regular, and super tampons. Generics are okay as long as they’re legitimate copycats.
  2. Some tampons with plastic applicators. I, myself, am a low-waster who doesn’t believe in that plastic waste, but for many teens, these are easier to use, so I have them on hand.
  3. A variety of good pads, many sizes.  Name brand or well-made generics are fine, but don’t get the really cheap stuff. CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart all have great copycat generics.
  4. A stockpile of pantyliners.
  5. Extra: I keep a few bandaids, too. Really, this saves a ton of unnecessary nurse trips.

Stocking up cheap or free…

You can your tampon drawer for pennies of free. If you read the coupon chapter of my book you know I rarely use them. This is one of those times.

  • But Cosco/BJs often have huge coupons for female items. And, the local junk mail fliers that come once a week that kill half the rainforest–they always have coupons. You’ll find coupons for Playtex, Kotex, Tampons, U, OB… all the big brands are there.
  • Match up the coupons with the store sales and coupons, and you can get these things cheap.
  • Also, watch the local drug store fliers, which also come in the mail whether you want them or not, and match up those sales, too.
The CVS Coupon Jumprope

Every time I even think of shopping at CVS I get this receipt a mile long with fifty to seventy coupons on it. One is always for tampons or pads, and another is “$6 off the next time I spend a certain amount. It’s usually $20-$30.  So, I make sure I need a few things at CVS or use that as my one-time year tampon and pad stockpile. I bring those rainforest killer coupons, the CVS coupons, and get the stuff on sale.  I spend pennies. The drawer is stocked, and I’ve only slightly violated my “no spend” rule, but it’s worth it.

Taking this further…small changes equal big school climate payoff

A few years ago, I made a stockpile for teachers.  I took some old art drawers from my house, filled it up, and put it in the teacher’s lav. Before, there was a small  “leave one take one” space on the paper towel dispenser. It was always empty in an emergency.

So, I stocked the art drawers with kleenex, female items, lotions, a little hairspray, floss…

What a mood changer! You’d think I put three drawers of gold in there. People loved them. I was relaxed knowing I could go into a well-supplied bathroom once a day or so, and feel like a human being. I felt relaxed and grateful.

That’s what you’re doing for your students by making a little “just in case” drawer for them. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, just accessible. No girl will tell you how grateful they are, but trust me… they are.


[Photo:  Josefin on Unsplash]

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