I’m a teacher on hiatus as a stay-at-home-mom. My husband is a teacher. We both work/ed in parochial schools, notorious for high quality education and extremely low budgets.
I’m also extremely thrifty by nature. We thrive quite nicely (no debt, saving for parochial high school and retirement at 60) on one teacher’s salary. I know both sides of this coin.
Please, just buy the Kleenex.
It’s back to school shopping season, and I am bracing for the onslaught of negativity.
That calculator is too expensive. I can’t believe I need to contribute to a class stock of pencils. Why can’t I just buy for my child? This is too many supplies. I don’t believe I need this brand of marker – I’ll just get whatever I feel like. A whole pack of Expo markers?! They can’t possibly need two big boxes of Kleenex.
I can tell you personally, with all sincerity, if the teacher has asked for it, it’s necessary. No teacher brings home a big paycheck – they know about scrimping and saving. Teachers don’t like storing big backup collections of Lysol wipes – it’s a pain to find a place for all that stuff. They feel badly asking you to search out specific brands and models of items. They know the backlash they’re about to get, and they’ve stuck their neck out to ask for specific supplies anyway.
Because they, the professionals, have determined it would be best for your child’s education to have these specific supplies.
I can’t possibly exhaust all the specifics of everyone’s school supply list, but here are just a few possible explanations for why things may be required.
1 – Specific brands of pencils, or shared pencils for the whole class
Pencil sharpening is a huge time-waster in education. The noise of the sharpener is disruptive during lessons or work time. It requires students to be out of their desk (either at a sharpener, or emptying their personal sharpener) which opens the door for all kinds of management problems. Many off-brand or “designer” pencils do not sharpen well – the lead is off-center so they’re never really sharp, the lead breaks off each time it’s sharpened, or the plasticy coating on the pencil gets all chewed up and stuck in the sharpener.
Whole-class pencils are a teacher choice made because of ease of management. It can be very time efficient and smooth to always have a stock of sharpened pencils, all identical so there is no time or talking wasted in “choosing” or “finding”. It’s not about some kind of classroom communism – it’s about efficiency and management.
2 – Specific calculators or other math devices
It is VERY DIFFICULT to teach a math class where there are several different models of calculator, protractor, etc. among the students. Each set of directions must be given 4 or 5 times to accommodate the differences. And while directions are given, the children to whom they don’t apply are likely getting distracted, goofing off, or craning to see their neighbor’s “cool different” device. If everyone’s supplies match the teacher’s, then the directions can be given once, and even a large poster or presentation be created that exactly matches what the kids have in their hands.
3 – Kleenex, Lysol wipes, paper towels, etc.
Children are natural wasters, and messy little people. I understand that supplying paper products to a classroom, again, feels like “classroom communism” because other children are going to use them. But to put it plainly, your child is spending 8 + hours a day for 3/4 of the year IN THE CLASSROOM. That’s a lot of paper product usage! If the child were home all of those hours, they would likely be burning through Kleenex and paper towels at home. When the common cold sweeps through a classroom of children, an entire box of Kleenex is easily used up PER DAY. The teachers personally Lysol wipe all the desks , doorknobs, sinks, EVERY DAY during flu season to try and prevent absences. Trust me when I tell you, I never made it past February before running out of the school supply list paper products and having to buy for the rest of the year myself. If the teacher bought all of these products for the classroom, that would mean purchasing 50 boxes of Kleenex, 20 containers of Lysol wipes, 20 rolls of paper towels… that extremely expensive for any one person. Divided up among the students (who do all use them in some way! Promise!) it is much more manageable.
4 – Name brand markers, crayons, paints
These are asked for because they work the best. There are many cheaper brands of art supplies out there, and they are cheaper for a reason. They don’t work very well! Off-brand markers dry out faster, don’t wash off as easily, and/or come in oddball colors that do not work for what we have planned. Off-brand crayons have precious little color payoff and break easily. These types of “little inconveniences” turn into big headaches and management problems when a child gets upset about his or her artwork “not working” or “being ruined” or can’t do the directions because the colors in that pack of supplies are different from others.
All of these supplies are requested after careful consideration, editing down of the list, weighing pros and cons, and year of education, training, and experience. That’s not an exaggeration – every choice a teacher makes is for the benefit of your child’s education. They are professionals at running classrooms and imparting knowledge. They re-evaluate their supply list every June, adjust for any changes noticed in the last school year, then cross their fingers that the supplies will come on the first day of school as asked.
So please, just buy the Kleenex. Maybe even a couple extra boxes.
For ideas on ways to cut costs for back-to-school (that don’t negatively impact the school day!) check out this post with six ways to save on school supplies and clothing!