Notebooks, Pens and $5 for Incidentals: America’s School Supply Lists

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I hate school supply lists. As a former high school English teacher, my back to school list was pretty minimal. Students needed a journal, a three-ring notebook, some paper, pens, and an open mind. However, the last time I taught public school was ten years ago and I can tell a lot has changed.

It became noticeable when my own children began attending public school. At first, I figured it was because they were in elementary. Early elementary teachers asked for things like sleeping mats, crayons, safety scissors, and glue sticks. Upper elementary school teachers’ lists were contingent upon what the girls were required to do that year. For example, sometimes teachers asked for the basics: pens, mechanical pencils, and graphing paper. Other times, supplies such as tri-fold boards were required for special projects.

But when my youngest daughter began fifth grade and my oldest started eighth, the already expensive school supply list turned into the dreaded school supply list.

The first two-thirds of the list was the same. The girls needed paper, notebooks, three-ring binders, and different colored folders. Great. The last third of the list was odd though. It included items, such as a pack of dry erase markers, a ream of copy paper or a 68 oz bottle of hand sanitizer. What was happening was clear. Schools were (and are) severely underfunded, and as a result, teachers also needed supplies just to do their jobs at a minimal level. Consequently, some teachers put the costs of basic public education onto the parents.

I thought it was just my children and our public school system. But after talking to my friends, there seemed to be different variations across the country.

My Texas friend showed me a list where the teacher had requested a tablecloth and $5.00 for “miscellaneous expenses.” Miscellaneous expenses? To whom do I give the $5? The teacher?back_to_school

My North Carolina friend mentioned a request for a pack of glue sticks from each child. What if the teacher does receive one pack from each child? Won’t that be a few too many glue sticks?

My Illinois friend’s public school list includes lab and book fees that sometimes total $1000. And if they don’t pay it, then grades are withheld or students can’t register. Sounds like a public school with a private school mentality.

Again, I understand why the lists have changed. What I don’t understand is the delivery. So I thought maybe teachers needed a couple of suggestions: IMG_3027

  • Add a header that reads Here are things that I would like to receive to make my job easier. That one might be too long, so here’s another: Wish List. Or maybe in my Illinois friend’s situation, the school could have a header called Expense Report that outlines where $1000 from each child goes. Don’t underestimate the value of headers. Parents want to know how their money is allocated. With headers, it is clear that this is what you absolutely have to purchase for your child’s success and this is what’s extra for the teacher to do his or her job.
  • Another option is something I saw when I sent my oldest daughter to a charter school one year. Charter schools tell parents at the beginning of the school year that they are expected to “volunteer” a certain amount. Volunteering could either come in the form of time, money or products, such as extra supplies that were required to run a classroom. The expectation was universal, for all parents, not just the ones who would be driven by guilt, kindness or threats to spend extra money.

Most parents want to do what’s best for their children. And most parents value public education. But when you begin to combine the teacher’s wish list with the student’s required list, then you’re going to lose a little of the parents’ support and respect.

Are you a K-12 teacher? Please share how you ask for school supplies. If you’re a parent, do you have anything you’d add to this list of annoyances?

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3 thoughts on “Notebooks, Pens and $5 for Incidentals: America’s School Supply Lists

  1. Very great post!
    I enjoy most lists of supplies and materials as long as it’s not too much or too expensive. I’m cool with glue sticks in big amounts and just about anything including soap and kleenex.

    What I rebelled against was the Principal emailing us at the end of the school year breathing down our necks with a crazy deadline of ordering stuff for next year and telling us where to order it from. We found out she can’t “force” us to do this, so we did nothing. I will follow a list of cool items, but no way will I get what you want at a very inappropriate time (who the hell who knows kids and families would make them order supplies at the end of first grade or whatever for second grade? The summer hasn’t even started.) and make the deadline absolute and get so in your business that you have to order from a place they demand you do it from. totally crazy and ineffective. Resulted in losing more supplies from parents who will not just jump because you say jump now but only this high and use this part of your legs and jump when you’re not standing up…. so angry making.

    Liked by 1 person

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