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The Supply List Debate

Outside the Box Teaching Ideas

I was enjoying a cup of coffee with a friend when I overheard a conversation from the table behind us.

The conversation went something like this:

“I have no idea why teachers create and hand out such a lengthy supply list. What do the kids need with all these materials?”

“I have no idea, but it seems the list gets longer every year. Do they think we are made of money?”

The conversation continued, and yes, shamefully, I listened to see how it would end.

I was tempted to turn around, proudly exclaim “I am a teacher!” and present a full explanation of each and every item on my supply list, but I refrained from doing so since they were complete strangers and this would have completely embarrassed my friend.

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Instead I began to wonder if this is what my classroom parents are thinking when they receive my supply list. Do they think I add things to the list simply to rack up their WalMart bill? Maybe they think I am a closet hoarder, secretly adding in extra supplies so I can add to my own personal stash? After all, teachers do love school supplies.

I know that is being a bit silly, but these thoughts did cross my mind. I found several online posts complaining about lengthy school supply lists. I never knew this was such an issue. One particular post got my attention. The writer was sharing thoughts similar to the overheard conversation. He or she was questioning why students needed crayons, markers, scissors, etc. They stated that when they were in school, which I imagine was several years ago, all they needed was paper and pencil.

I don't ever remember just needing those two items, but I do agree the supply lists have changed over the course of time. Why is that? I think for starters, the funding for classroom materials has dwindled and most teachers receive little to nothing for their classrooms.

To illustrate, imagine a business where the boss sends out a memo stating there is no money for the basic office supplies, therefore making your job impossible to complete. If you need pens, pencils, paper, files, etc, you will need to purchase yourself or perhaps divide up materials among your coworkers. Now imagine that your office staff consists of between 20 and 30 people. If you were to purchase all supplies for the staff, and keep it replenished throughout the year, you would be working just to earn enough to purchase supplies. You may want to purchase more supplies for your staff, but it is just not economically feasible. What do you do?

This is the situation teachers deal with year after year. Another reason the lists have changed is that education has changed. Classrooms 15 to 20 years ago are not the same today. Students are required to do more, which in turn means a greater need of supplies. Classroom sizes have also changed. It is not unusual for a class to have 20 to 30 students or perhaps more, making it even more challenging for teachers to individually purchase all the supplies needed. Students have a tendency to lose, lend, or dare I say, waste materials.

I purposefully ask for 1-2 dozen pencils per student a year. I cannot tell you how many pencils I have purchased to provide students with. This is usually after the first month of school. Students are asked to have a pencil box in which to keep materials, but they don't always use them. I have students who have wasted hundreds of sheets of paper drawing, writing notes to friends (yes, some still do that), or redoing work they feel is too messy to submit.

The “outrageous” number of supplies, as the author put it, is so that your child has what he/she needs throughout the year. It is not just for the first month. The materials on my list are for the individual student, not the class as a whole, with the exception of a few items such as construction paper and tissues. I ask parents to label the items for that purpose alone.

If for some reason an item does not get used, it is sent home with the student. Items sent home can be used the following year, therefore making less items for parents to purchase for the next year. Materials are not kept in a secret stash, although donations are always welcomed.

I think it is also important to note that most (if not all) school supply items can be purchased at Dollar Stores, which are found nationwide. I frequent these establishments often. I do not think investing $20 - $25 (or less) in your child's education is asking too much. I know it seems like a lot when you are looking at a long list typed out on paper, but it isn't really when you consider it is for the next 10 months. Learning is the job of the student. The “tools” included in that list help them be successful at their job. Would you go to work without the proper tools needed to complete the job?

While we may not post receipts or make public announcements as to what we spend, a large number of the supplies needed in a classroom are purchased by the teacher. I will not go into a lengthy rant about how much money I spend purchasing supplies for my classroom, but will say I do my best to keep the supply list for parents at a minimum. I am aware that some teachers may go a little overboard asking for things they anticipate they will need and may not actually use.

If there is ever a question regarding an item, instead of getting angry and complaining, ask the teacher why he/she is asking for it. I am sure there is a good reason. So although I did not approach the ladies at the coffee shop with my grand explanation, maybe one of them will catch this blog and understand that teachers are not trying to put a dent in your wallet, or hoard unnecessary materials. We are simply asking you to help your child have all the tools he/she needs for a successful year.