Ah, it’s that time of year again.
The birds are sweating, the tourists are starting to migrate West and the newspaper is clogged with ads for spiral bound notebooks. School is coming and so is the need for school supplies.
At the end of school last year, my daughter Audra came home with a list of school supplies for the following year. I immediately put it on the refrigerator, knowing full well that the chance of us being able to locate the list two months later was practically zero, but somehow the Office Max Gods prevailed and the list was still magnetically attached to our fridge yesterday when I decided to go to Target and get everything my precious little daughter needed to be successful in the first grade.
So, I snagged the list, loaded everyone in the car and headed off to the big bullseye. It wasn’t until I had loaded my kids into the cart and was wheeling my way past ladies unmentionables that I actually took the time to look at the list before me.
It was long.
There were 17 separate requests on the list, and some of those required multiple purchases, such as “8 large glue sticks.” All in all, I bought 29 different items.
And would you like to know how much this list of supplies cost me? How much this list of “supplies [my] child will need for first grade” cost me?
Ok, let’s talk about this.
Now, I have no problem purchasing school supplies for my beautiful daughter, and I certainly appreciate teachers sending home a list, so I’m not buying a bunch of stuff that nobody really needs. And I don’t even have a problem picking up a box of communal Kleenex for the classroom. That’s fine. But somewhere along the way, this got a little out of hand.
For instance, I kind of resent that teachers are asking that students bring in “a 24 pack of twistable crayons.”
Well, la te dah! I guess kids around here are a little too good for plain old regular crayons. They have to have fancy Twistable crayons. Never mind that they cost about 400% more than a regular box of crayons. And I’m not even talking about trying to cheap out and buy some of those crappy Prang crayons. I’m talking 400% higher than crayola.
For those of you who have not had to sell your grandmother’s silver to purchase school supplies this year, twistables are plastic pens with a sliver of crayon inside that you “twist” up. The advantage of these crayons is that they… what? Are expensive? Have less crayon in them?
I also was sort of annoyed by the exacting nature of the list.
For instance I’m supposed to provide my daughter with “1 plastic school box.”
Ok, no problem. I saw one for 79 cents, scooped it up and threw it in the cart. Then I realized that the school box that they were requesting was supposed to be “ 5 inches by 13inches.”
Are you kidding me?
The box I had found was 5” by 8” so I threw it back for being too small. I scoured the whole store and finally found a box that was sort of the requested dimensions in the Tupperware section. (5” x 12” do you think they’ll notice? I imagine a teacher standing at the door with a ruler and making all of the kids with inaccurate boxes stand off to the side) I went home and spent some time on line and couldn’t find a single school box out there that seemed to be 5x13. What the heck? Has one of the teacher created a line of specially made school boxes?
Why, you might ask, would a child need a box of such exacting proportions anyway?
Well, no doubt to keep the dozens of pencils she is supposed to bring to class.
Number 5 on my list of supploes was “6 pkg. of 12 #2 wooden pencils (please sharpen one pack)”
6 packages of 12 pencils?
My child will need 72 pencils for first grade?
That’s one pencil every 2.5 days! What the hell are they doing with that many pencils? Building a scale model of the Eiffel tower? Copying Ulysses out by hand?
I sometimes think that the teachers are just screwing with us. Number 9 on the list was a request for “1 yellow two-pocket plastic folder (bottom pockets, no prongs)”
I searched Target for about an hour looking for “1 yellow two-pocket plastic folder (bottom pockets, no prongs)” and was convinced it was an all an elaborate joke and the first grade teachers were all sitting around at a Ruby Tuesday drinking Appletinis and laughing at us parents as we tried desperately to find an item that didn’t exist.
I found an entire aisle of folders in Target’s back to school section and they didn’t have anything that came close. I searched through box after box of folders. They had lots of paper folders and they had lots of plastic folders. They had folders with prongs and folders without prongs. They had folders with two pockets and folders without any pockets. They had yellow folders and blue folders and folders with Jonas Brothers on them, but they DID NOT have a “yellow two-pocket plastic folder (bottom pockets, no prongs)”
And don’t tell me that I should have shopped somewhere else. There was a sign in Target that said very clearly that this was my “One Stop Back to School Headquarters!”
Anyway, eventually I found the requisite folder in the separate office supply section hidden behind the gardening supplies. It was like a secret bonus school supply area that only the extra diligent parents knew about. It was like finding the special room of gold mushrooms on Super Mario 4 after you reach level…. ok, I never had a nintendo as a child, so I never actually found a hidden room of gold mushrooms, but I imagine that was what it felt like.
I also lucked out with the hunt for purel.
I was commanded to get “1 hand sanitizer – pump style.”
Well, believe it or not, with two weeks to go before school, every hand sanitizer in Target had already been purchased. It was like there was a run on cleanliness. I guess hand sanitizer is the new “must have” item for today’s hip teacher.
Anyway, I found a secret stock of them in an abandoned cart over in the automotive section. It was like discovering Atlantis in South Jersey.
The whole experience was kind of like the amazing race. Except a lot, lot less fun.
There were also times when I felt like the teachers were just trying to be condescending. Item # 6 was “1 pink beveled eraser.
A beveled eraser?
What the heck is that?
I had to literally google it in the middle of Target to figure out what they were talking about. Thank goodness I have an iphone otherwise my child would never be prepared for first grade.
(Beveled eraser my fanny)
Somewhere around the point where I was being asked to send in “1 box Ziploc freezer bags (gallon)” and “1 box Ziploc freezer bags (quart)” I began to wonder what in the world kind of public school I was sending my kid to. I mean, did this place even have a supply closet? Do they want me to send in chalk and staples as well?
When I got down to #14 “1 container Lysol/Clorox wipes,” I was feeling down right agitated. Did they not even have cleaning supplies? What about a gallon of pine sol? Want me to send in a mop too?
And how is my 34 pound daughter supposed to get these two giant bags of stuff to the school in the first place? I’m going to have to send her with a wheelbarrow and one of those little back support belts.
You see, here’s the thing. I am not unsympathetic to the difficulties of being a public school teacher. I taught 3rd and 4th grade and in schools that were nowhere near as nice as the lovely suburban school that my daughter attends. I taught in downtown Detroit and in rural Mississippi. I know that in those situations we truly didn’t have supplies. At the beginning of the year I was given a box of chalk, an eraser, and a single box of pencils and told “good luck.”
I know that I spent hundreds of dollars on my classroom that year, both in trying to make it look not so dreary and in trying to provide the basic needs to my students.
We sent home a list to parents there as well. As I recall it included a request for a notebook, a pack of lined paper and 2 pencils. Even with this minimal request, only about five or six of my kids were able to come up with even a portion of it. So I went out to buy an endless stream of folders and pencils and paper just to be able to teach.
The area we live in now is pretty well off. Honestly, that was one of my main concerns about moving here. We chose the house because it sat on a couple of acres and backed on to the woods, but I was concerned about the fact that we were putting ourselves and our kids into an area made up almost exclusively of well-off white people.
I know that most of the parents in our school can afford $70 in school supplies without blinking, even for those who have multiple kids in school, but that doesn’t mean that everyone can.
While our school district contains many oversized mansions and stately homes, there are also a number of smaller, older homes that were here long before this area became known for it’s beautiful farms and excellent schools.
Unlike any school I have ever worked in, this one is well funded and well supported by an active PTA which raises tens of thousands every year with charity golf tournaments and elaborate auctions that some families can not even afford to attend because the entrance fee is so high.
Let me say again, this is the public school.
Because the school is well funded and the parents are well off, the teachers can ask for pretty much anything - 72 pencils, fancy crayons, Clorox wipes - and expect to get them. While teachers in poorer schools start off with nothing and can ask for very little.
I know that I’m taking a lot of this personally, knowing that in the classroom I taught in Mississippi, the school system and parents combined quite literally spent about half as much on classroom supplies as I just spent for my daughter yesterday.
It bugs me.
And it bugs me that I know there are kids in Audra’s classroom (perhaps not many, but some) who will show up on the first day of school with a small percentage of the supplies that “your child will need for grade 1” because their parents can literally not afford to spend $70 on hand sanitizer, Ziploc bags, cleaning products, special folders and the like. I’m sure these children will benefit from the largesse of their fellow students. Surely, the intent of asking for 72 pencils is that they will be shared among all the students.
And I, for one, have no problem with a little communism among school supplies. But isn’t this what we pay taxes for? Am I truly to believe that glue and crayons and soap are not things that, perhaps, our school should be providing for our students regardless of whether a parent can afford to bring them in?
I guess what concerns me is the assumption that: because many are well off, that all are well off. It is a school that sometimes forgets that a twistable crayon is not necessarily worth the pride of a parent who can’t afford it.
I don’t mind the money. I am fortunate that I don’t have to worry too much about spending $70 on school supplies. But I worry about what this amount of money says about our school, our teachers and our students.
I believe that all children deserve access to a high-quality, free, public education.
I have no qualms with fundraisers, bake sales, or school supply lists to supplement that. But sometimes the desire for more stuff causes us to forget what that stuff costs.
And the costs are more than simply dollars.