As an elementary teacher for 21 years, I know there were supplies I asked for that never got used – 2 large bottles of glue per kid in 5th grade, what was I thinking? And notecards, like any 5th grader was ever going to need 200 notecards.
I’ll admit I never thought much about it, I mean you can get a bottle of glue on sale at Wal-Mart or Target for less than a dollar, and if you time it right, way less than that. Plus, it was a common belief that it was easier to get it all at once rather than asking parents for things throughout the year.
Then my kids started school, and I looked at supply lists from the parent perspective. Yes, there are some great back to school supply sales, but I may not make it to that store on that day, and the great sale is countered by an increased price on three other things I need. And 48 pencils, am I supplying pencils for the whole class?
But I dutifully bought everything on the list (okay, except the pencils, I’m not buying that many pencils), and at the end of the year, both kids would come home with unused bottles of glue, spiral notebooks, folders, etc. We’d sort through the backpack, saving reusable supplies and tossing the broken crayons and eraser remnants from the bottom of the pencil case.
As the years have gone by, we’ve acquired a ton of never used or gently used supplies. We have put together packs of colored pencils from the remains of the last few years, reused folders, ripped out the 5-10 pages of a spiral that actually got used, and put last years’ still good (but not new) pencils in the case.
This year, after paying registration fees, putting money in the lunch account, buying school pictures, yearbooks, and athletic passes and then school supplies for 2 kids – I spent over $800, and about $150 of that was on supplies.
Let that number sink in.
That doesn’t include the new shoes and jeans for the boy who’s grown five inches since last fall.
That doesn’t include the shoes necessary for volleyball and cross-country.
I know teachers don’t control the fees, and, yes, I could’ve skipped the yearbooks and pictures, and I could tell the kids they can’t participate in sports, but $150 on supplies AFTER we reused a long list of things from last year, is crazy.
The thing that gets me most about the lists is that while I can afford to spend that money, I know so many families who can’t.
And those kids show up the first day of school without the requisite soft sided pencil case or three full-size boxes of tissue or Clorox wipes or whatever other item they couldn’t find or afford, and we judge them. From day one, we decide they aren’t prepared or their families don’t value education, and that changes how we see them all year long.
Don’t get me wrong, I know there are supplies that are necessary for students to have, and I know your classroom budget is small, maybe even non-existent. I know you spend tons of your own money throughout the year as well. But the supply lists seem to get longer and the items more expensive.
So I just want to offer a few thoughts on how to tame the list.
First, do the math. Add up the cost of all the things on your list. I bet it’s way more than you realize.
Next, divide that list into two columns – Need to Have and Nice to Have. What are the things your students really need to have in your classroom?
Are you really going to make them do something specific with the three different colored highlighters or could they get by with one or two different colors (and does it matter what two colors)?
How about 6-12 pencils to start the year instead of 48 or 96 (yes, I’ve heard of requests for 96 pencils per student).
Crayons, markers, and colored pencils – do they really need all three?
Specifying name brands – Yes, I know the Pink Pearl erasers don’t leave smudges, and the Ticonderoga pencils sharpen better, but can you make those suggestions not requirements? I’ve wasted so much time going from store to store to find a specific brand. Not all parents have that kind of time.
Flash drives – How many of you are using Google Classroom? Doesn’t that eliminate the need for a flash drive?
And tissues – How about one box per student and then add a second box on the Nice to Have side.
Post-It Notes and Expo Markers – What about asking families with last names A-L to bring one and M-Z to bring the other?
The other stuff, the Nice to Have stuff – extra boxes of tissues, specific craft supplies, duct tape, hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes, extra pencils – all of those things can get expensive. Ask parents to donate at least one thing from that list at the beginning of the year, and keep a class wish list going all year (my kids’ elementary school had a wishing tree in the front hall – teachers added sticky notes with their name and item wished for).
I’m not saying don’t ask for supplies. I’m just suggesting that we need to think about how our lists impact students and families.