“You do your bit to help the environment and this is where it gets you,” remarks Fred Worthing through gritted teeth.

A burly student with wispy facial hair leans over and points to something on the page. His partner shakes her head.

“Future Perfect, right?” Worthing begins. “So I decide to chop off the last three activities from the book and make something tailored to my students. They’re all capable people, mostly undergrads, so I was going to get them to ask each other about what they think they will have achieved in their fields by 2030 and report back to the class.”

The enthusiasm fades from his face as he continues. “I print out the sheet and make my way over to the photocopier where I see a sheaf of scrap paper in a cardboard tray. I’m already in the mindset of thinking about the future so I’m like, Do I really need to open a new packet of paper? Why don’t I just use the back of these sheets?”

Fred had found out the answer midway through his lesson when – after chesting the sheet, modelling the activity and asking ICQs – he gave out the papers, only for the students to immediately turn over and become engrossed in the information on the back.

“It’s not like it’s a palimpsest of the Bhagavad Gita,” Worthing says, shaking his head as he looks from one student to the next. “It’s a report on whether the school can save money by switching suppliers for their cleaning products.”

“Teacher,” the burly student with the wispy beard pipes up, “Polish can be a noun?”

“Not Polish. Not like the nationality.” Fred rises from his chair, uncapping the non-permanent marker and writing the word on board in the vocabulary column beneath bleach, solvent, and shammy. “It’s a fluid you can use to make wood look… woodier.”

The student nods and makes a note on the sheet.

As our reporter leaves, another student raises her hand and sounds out, “Am-mo-ni-um-Chlo-ride.”

Worthing cast a final, wistful look at the thoughtfully crafted activity on the back of the sheet before turning to the board to write again.

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