It’s that time of year again: back to school season. It’s a time of mixed emotions. Parents are happy (and a little sad) for the kids to be back in the classroom. Teachers are sad to see summer go, but deep down, they’re ready to help your kiddos learn. But, before any of the learning begins, parents and students find themselves busy purchasing materials from THE SUPPLY LIST. You know, the list of all the required supplies needed for the respective grade of your student, the list that inspired Monica Brown to pen her blog post “Why I won’t buy one extra box of Kleenex for my kid’s school supplies; signed, a frustrated parent.”

Sure, the lists can seem long and sometimes overly specific, but trust that the items are there for a reason, even in the secondary grades.  While Brown addresses the list from a parental perspective (one I applaud), I’d like to clarify a few misconceptions about supplies in high school. (YES, students and classrooms still need supplies!)

No, high schools classrooms do not have a set supply list available, and while I admit that I can see how this might be frustrating, it’s due to the variability of a student’s schedule by grade and course selections. As a parent myself, I, too, want to buy supplies as cheaply as possible and preferably during the tax-free weekend, but without THE LIST, many parents find themselves at a loss and refuse to guess. Result: a classroom full of students with little to no supplies. Most teachers would agree that paper and writing utensils are must haves for the year, so start there.

Yes, high school courses often ask for more expensive items like graphing calculators, bigger binders, and sticky notes, but rest assured, these are tools of the respective trade, and often, the more expensive items will last the rest of high school. And, let’s be honest, those sticky notes make annotating texts helpful when you can’t write in the books.

No, class fees do not go to the respective teacher. Often, they pay for student access to the online materials, books, food/fabric (family and consumer science classes), etc. necessary for the class, which leaves basic supplies like paper, pencils, folders, copy paper to be procured by students at the behest of individual teachers.

Yes, most teachers do receive a small amount of classroom money, but it pales in comparison to the amount teachers spend on extra (much needed) supplies. Plus, this small classroom fund is typically not available until OCTOBER, well beyond the start of school. So, what is a teacher do? Well, simply put, we have to put it in the syllabus and hope and pray students come prepared.

Brown’s blog speaks volumes of the magic happening in classrooms thanks to THE LIST, and it even addresses community supplies such as tissues and cleaning implements. We still need these in high school, but all too often, when students are requested to bring these, they request extra credit points, as if these are items of requested luxury. Sure, we could send students to the bathroom for tissue, but that’s lost instructional time. See, we truly do care about delivering the best instruction we can, and we have to get by with a little help from a LIST. But, what about the classroom monies teachers receive each year you ask? Yeah, those, classroom supply money cannot be used to purchase items like band-aids, sanitizer, wipes, tissues, or anything else that might remotely clean, not even the whiteboard. Oh, and copies? Sure, teachers may have access to the machines, but often, teachers must supply their own copy paper, and yes, while we might have access to electronic copies, students may not always have Internet access. Besides, there’s just something about physically working with colored paper and pens and markers that sparks learning.

I’ve already completed my two daughters’ lists, and I’ve already bought new supplies for my classroom as well. Honestly, I’ve even bought supplies not on the list for the teachers my kids will have because elementary papers are always happier with stickers. As a parent AND secondary teacher,  I realize the cost of supplies adds up, but so does the cost of a daily frappuccino or fast food meal or even adding extra data or lines to your monthly mobile plan. All I ask is that before you question THE LIST (whether elementary or secondary), remind yourself that if it helps your child learn in a clean and comfortable environment, isn’t it worth the extra expense?

Sure, teachers are known for their willingness to go the extra mile to make sure students have what they need to learn, but let’s be honest, should they be responsible for ensuring THE LIST is fulfilled? Pay it forward, buy extra where you can,  and see unadulterated (and uninterrupted) learning happen.

7 Replies to “THE LIST”

  1. I really liked that you addressed secondary schools. Of course, the dynamic between students, teachers, and parents change in junior high and high school since students are learning more responsibility and independence. I feel like this causes many people to dismiss the need for supplies in these classrooms. Technology in the classroom has changed this slightly, but supplies are still needed. Do you give out supply lists?

    1. Yes, that dynamic does change! I know they are more independent in classes, but school is school, and work still has to get done. As for supplies, I post a list of necessities for the class in the syllabus and review it the first day, but I have also had to resort to asking for voluntary donations for tissues and hand sanitizer as none of that is provided by anyone else other than the teacher. A few years ago, I decided to offer “scratcher” cards. I made these with the publisher app and these wonderful scratch off stickers from Amazon. Cards had all kinds of rewards on them such as a range of bonus points, a homework pass, etc. Students loved them, but I wish I could motivate them to help the class without expecting rewards.

  2. Angela,

    I greatly appreciate this entry. As a mom, I have often felt bitter towards teachers that require very specific items that are more expensive than the ones I probably would have chosen. As a teacher, I’ve been frustrated by parents that did not send in what was on the list. Yes, I know how that sounds and I apologize because, in the end, The List is for items that will make the school year go smooth for teachers, students, and parents.

    Thank you for addressing secondary classrooms. As a secondary teacher, I do feel like parents forget or tend to fuss more about the needed supplies. Where I live, secondary classrooms are on a seven-period schedule and therefore need more supplies than what is required for elementary classes. As my children have gotten older I have become more aware and sympathetic towards these needs.

    Your blog entry is awesome and I hope you don’t mind if I share it……so my friends can become more understanding! =)

    1. I, too, am guilty of looking at a list and having that knee-jerk reaction, but we must remind ourselves that the list was made based on student need and not teacher hoarding. In fact, don’t know any teacher with THAT much storage space. I’ve even have had a few teachers over the years send home my child’s extras at the end of the year, which are going in this year’s bag.

      Yes, I do think secondary supplies are fall to the wayside too often. I can’t imagine the amount of supplies needed for seven periods! It’s not too bad if you stick to the basics for your child r stock up at the beginning of the year on paper when it’s under a dollar a pack! I think too many people loose sight of the goal and solely focus on their personal “loss,” but what about student gains? Feel free to share aware if you wish.

  3. This is great. Thank you for addressing this issue from a teacher perspective! Even though secondary schools usually do not provide a list, I think it is pretty easy to guess at least a lot of what will be needed for those who want to get the items cheaper. I always pick up paper, notebooks, writing utensils, sticky notes, a binder or two, etc. I figure even if I don’t use them all that school year, I can save them for the next. One thing I have done before that worked pretty well is when I request students to bring an item that maybe is not one of those super common items, I provide it for them. For example, one year I wanted my students to have composition notebooks, so while they were on sale I picked up a whole bunch of them then I told students if they did not want to go to the store, they could just buy one from me. I sold them to students for the same price that was charged at the store, so I was not making any money from it, but for many parents and students it was really convenient and they really appreciated that they were still able to get the item at a low price.

  4. This summer my long time teaching partner accepted a position teaching in another, much larger, district. The new district has lots of perks, 1:1 devices, Apple TV in every classroom, better pay and benefits, and others. One very surprising thing is that there are NO SUPPLY LISTS. Apparently a very vocal parent complained a few years that their child was guaranteed the right to a FREE public education and that requiring parents to buy supplies negated the promise of it being free. Excuse me!? I can understand that some families face financial challenges and that especially if you have several kids, supplies can be expensive. Every year I have a few of these kiddos in my class. But,, whether it is myself, our school social worker, my principal, or someone else we always find a way to make sure these kids have what they need to be successful. I don’t know the circumstances of the very vocal parent. I do feel that it is a sad commentary on the way some people feel about adequately investing in our public schools and our students.

    1. I have been teaching 1:1 going on five years now, and supplies are still needed. Everything isn’t electronic, not to mention that not all students have access to Internet at home. IN fact, even in 1:1 environments, not all students have devices due to fees, damages to previous devices, or choice. I just felt the need to post why supplies are still needed, but also, I wanted to explain why there isn’t a one size fits all list for high school. We all have struggling students in our classes, and we try to keep lists to a minimum, but I will never understand why some people refuse to see the value in funding anything related to education. Fortunately, we have caring teachers who do quite a lot with so little, but imagine what we could do if others valued it as much as we!

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