Last summer, a video circulated on social media of a lady known as One Funny Mother, and it’s making the rounds again. In the video, a woman circles what looks like Target, ranting about people who complain about buying supplies off of teachers’ lists. I’ve never met her, but I love her.
As a mom, I know that back-to-school shopping gets expensive. When my kids were in elementary school, I spent around $50 per kid for school supplies. The amount went up when they hit middle school and had multiple teachers asking for stuff. When it was time for high school, there were things like large capacity flash drives and engineering-grade calculators that jacked my totals above the triple digit watermark. Multiply that by three kids, and add in the uniforms and backpacks and other things my progeny deemed necessary, and it made me clutch my pearls at the checkout.
As a teacher, though, I am unapologetic about my supply list. I put a lot of thought and energy into planning for the school year, and I am very circumspect about putting together my supply list. When I put a 1" binder with five dividers on my supply list, it’s because I want to help your kids stay organized and learn how to manage their paperwork. We have a section for all the vocabulary terms they’ll be learning. There’s a section for notes that I give them to help them make sense of what can be really challenging material. There’s a section for all of their writing that I ask them to archive in the binder so that they can go back and analyze trends and see if they need help learning how to use things like a semi-colon correctly. There’s a section for old tests and quizzes so that they’ll have them at the ready when it’s time to prepare for the midterm and final exams. The last divider is for miscellaneous stuff that I haven’t even thought of needing a section for yet, so I guess you could call that an extravagance if you really wanted to.
I ask kids to bring in notebook paper because, since it is an English class, we will be writing. I am specific about the size of the paper because grabbing a stack of papers, tapping it into order on my table, and then finding two or three pages sticking out an extra half inch is just wrong. Don’t do that to me. Just buy the standard 8 1/2" X 11" notebook paper I asked you to get. Please.
We definitely need pens and pencils because, again, writing.
Sometimes I’ll ask for other things like a pack of index cards or a set of specifically-colored highlighters because I’ve learned a cool new strategy that I think your kids will like and that I, more importantly, think will help them learn the stuff they’re supposed to learn.
I also include a “wish list” on every supply list. This is where I dream big and ask for things that aren’t absolutely vital but sure make my life easier. Kleenex is on that list. I’ve had parents ask about this who fancy themselves as experts in math. “You have about 150 kids. That’s 150 boxes of Kleenex!” The implication, I guess, is that I don’t really need that much Kleenex. Well, it’s adorable that people assume that everyone is actually going to run out and buy me everything on my wish list (which would imply that everyone actually read the supply list in the first place). But, yes. I do need that much. During flu season alone, the kids can go through an entire box of Kleenex in one period. Add to that the kids who grab a few to use for things like coasters for their venti macchiato that they rolled into class with, or as handheld mops to soak up the sweat that they are still dripping when they trudge in after a PE class, and I can assure you that 150 boxes of Kleenex may not be enough to get me to Thanksgiving.
I have luxury items like hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes on my wish list too. I encourage kids to use the hand sanitizer as needed because I have seen them in the bathrooms and have no confidence in their soapless “moisten and shake” method of what they euphemistically think of as hand washing.
As for the wipes, at the end of each period, I ask the kids to wipe down their desk for the person who’ll be sitting in their personal petri dish the following period. Again, this may not be an absolute necessity, but I don’t want my classroom to be a breeding ground for mono, staph, flu, E. Coli, meningitis, strep, Ebola, or any other nasty cooties. You might accuse me of hyperbole or alarmism, but when you watch kids cough, sneeze, and excavate their noses and zits and then put their hands on their desks, you get to thinking about the movie Outbreak.
So, can we just make a deal? Please just trust that I’m only asking you to buy what your kid will really and truly need while in my class. And please get exactly what I ask for because I swear that there is a reason why I’m asking for it. If I ask your kid for a yellow binder, it may be because she’s in first period, and all of those kids have yellow binders so that I don’t get them mixed up with second period’s binders which are blue. If I specify a particular type of glue, it’s because the kids are going to use the glue for a project I’ve already taken on a test drive, so I know from experience that the cheap glue from the dollar store won’t work. And we’ve already talked about paper sizes. That’s just a me thing, but it’s important, so why not just humor me?
In return, I promise not to ask for anything crazy. I will keep it to the basics. I also promise that your kids will use it all. They won’t come home at the end of the year with a five subject spiral notebook that you paid $5.69 for with only four pages written on. I get it. I really do. That stuff irritates me too, and I don’t have money to waste on stuff that won’t get used.
I need all my money because for every kid who comes in without the basic supplies, I have to go to the store and fill a cart so that all my students can begin the year with what they need. Ask any teacher how much he or she spends out of pocket on student supplies, and you’ll learn that whatever you spend on your kids, we spend that and much more on someone else’s kid. In 2016, the Education Market Association reported that virtually all teachers purchase school supplies for students out of their own pockets at an average of $500 per year with 10% spending over $1000. A friend of mine who’s in a Master’s program asked me last year to track what I spent over the course of just the first semester for a project in one of her classes. I spent $613.
Some people might tell me to just let the chips fall and not to spend my own money. Good advice, but those people don’t have to revamp and rethink an entire unit that took hours to plan and tweak because you only have four sets of markers to be used by thirty two kids. And those people don’t have to look at the two kids in fourth period who don’t have that yellow binder or those highlighters because they genuinely can’t afford it.
In a perfect world in which education was valued as the precious commodity it is and was funded accordingly, I could do the shopping myself from my school’s budget and have the supplies waiting for the kids on the first day of school. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world yet. So, please don’t complain about the supplies that I’m asking you to provide. If you can’t afford to buy them, no worries. I’ll figure it out. If you can afford them and have a little extra, you might even send in a little gift card to WalMart, Target, or Office Depot for me. I’ll definitely be able to use it when I stop by the store on my way home one day during the first week of school so that I can make sure that all the kids have what they need.