Recently one of my best friends and I got into a bit of a debate about school supply shopping. I’d just come back from supply shopping and I was feeling some rather serious sticker shock. Aside from buying each of my kids two notebooks with designs on them (which cost $2.50 each), everything else I bought my kids was the cheapest version of the supply available. For two kids going into grades 2 and 5, that came to $100 and some changes. Three items on my son’s list (a Trapper Keeper that zips, a set of ultra fine color Sharpie’s and a white t-shirt) totaled $31, nearly a third of the total cost.
This $100 didn’t cover backpacks, lunchboxes, headphones, styluses, or scissors (we are reusing from last year). It also didn’t cover pencils or pocket folders for my son since he already has the required amount at home. That $100 also does not cover the fees I have to pay the school to cover their iPads/books, which will be an additional $150 each.
So, in order to send my kids back to school next week, I will spend about $400. Of course that $400 doesn’t include the money I am also going to have to spend on school supplies…for my own classroom.
I teach high school and for a variety of different reasons, we don’t send out classroom supply lists.* I can give students a list of materials they will need for my classroom, and hope that they get them, but one thing I’ve learned is that both student and parental concern for these issues greatly wane as students get older. Need proof? Go to any open house. Last year when I walked into my son’s 4th grade classroom during open house, it was packed, with many adults standing. At our open house I am lucky to get 5 or 6 parents per class section. I also know that even when I do require them to have materials, since I have no storage for them, my kids will not remember them, so it is just easier for me to keep class sets of markers, pencils, rulers, scissors, Post-Its, etc.
While my administration will provide some of these materials, like all teachers I have to purchase additional supplies on my own. Last year I spent over $300 of my own money on classroom supplies. I’m sure this year will be no different.
Now, before anyone gets ready to fly off the handle, I know that even with the supplies I am sending my kids to school with, elementary teachers will also be spending their hard earned money on additional classroom supplies. I also know that elementary students go through a LOT more supplies than high school kids do. I know that some of the supplies I send in will no doubt be put into a classroom “pot” for all kids to use and I am 100% fine with that. I do not begrudge any student or elementary teacher these supplies. I want both the teachers and the students to have these supplies.
I recently read some really good articles/posts about the importance of buying school supplies. The first one I read was here. The other one, which I can’t find at the moment was written by a teacher who heard one parent railing about the cost of school supplies and how it was wrong and unfair, etc. while another parent gave her a gift card to buy supplies because he wanted to make sure his daughter understood the value of education. I agree completely with both of the ideas/sentiments in both of these articles. As a teacher and a parent, however, I’m getting hit with the double whammy here. I am paying for supplies twice and it’s a little hard to swallow.
Luckily, because both my husband and I have jobs, we are able to pay for these supplies, even if it means some cutting back for the next few weeks. However, my kids go to a school where over 1/3 of the students are eligible for free/reduced meals because they fall below community poverty standards. So, while these fees are a small hardship for my family, they are HUGE bills to many other families in our district who I know cannot afford to shell out $31 for three items on the list.
I am a teacher because I value education. I think an educated society is one of the most important things in the world. I know that it is impossible to provide that education without the proper supplies. I know that those supplies vary based on age and experience.
It’s hard to explain my anger over paying for school supplies. It’s not really the cost that angers me. It’s the fact that we live in a society that thinks providing supplies to teachers is NOT important. I am angry that I live in a society that is constantly demonizing teachers and railing about how we make too much money, but also thinks it is perfectly acceptable to expect us to pay for our own supplies. People want us to do our jobs, but they don’t want to give us the supplies and materials we need to do our jobs.
Although I’ve been a teacher for 20 years, I’ve also worked outside of education for 8 years. In those years, I was never once expected to provide my own supplies. My husband works for a publishing company and he is not expected to provide his own supplies. I have friends who are reporters, lobbyists, non-profit organizers, lawyers, doctors…and they are not expected to provide their own supplies.
I don’t think parents should have to pay for school supplies any more than I think teachers should have to pay for them. If we want an educated society, we need to make education a priority. We send a very big message to kids when we make educational cut after educational cut: Education is not important. It is not worth spending money on. And whether we realize it or not, that message is also interpreted as: Kids are not important. Their futures are not important. And what that really means is: Our future is not important.
Those are ridiculous and short-sighted messages to send.
*There are several reasons we don’t do this, the biggest is that unlike elementary teachers who have 20-30 kids in one year, this year I will have about 125 students who will only be in my classroom for 1/4 of their day (we are on block scheduling). My classroom has no built in student storage, so there would be no place to store their supplies other than their lockers, which not all students have/use and even if they did, they would then have to go back to their lockers to get supplies, which would waste valuable class time.