Thursday, August 12, 2010

Texan Mama does School Supplies: Let It Go...

Deep breaths.... deep breaths.... Serenity Now....

School supplies are the one thing (okay, not one thing but the top thing) that make me mad about school. And, it's not just a public school thing... I've been bitching about school supplies since my first child went to pre-school 7 years ago.

I mean, WHAT IS MY PROBLEM, REALLY???? Shouldn't it be okay for teachers to ask parents to spend over $50 per child for school supplies every year? Isn't it fine that the school supplies which aren't used up (like scissors and rulers) never get returned to me at the end of the year? Shouldn't I be used to the idea that my child provides school supplies for the teacher since the school district won't buy her the supplies she needs? Doesn't it make sense that my child has to put all his/her supplies into a giant "community" pile for everyone to use and share? Because, ya know, I'm don't need to be concerned about my kids learning how to take care of their own belongings, really. Nah.

Some items I've been asked to supply (by the way, these would be items for ONE child):

  • 4 dozen pencils
  • 1 ream of copy paper
  • Vis-a-Vis (a.k.a. wet-erase overhead machine) markers
  • Expo (dry-erase) low-odor markers
  • Clorox wipes
  • 1 package of red pens
  • Post-It Notes
  • Permanent Sharpie Marker (which I find contradictory when also asking for washable Crayola markers)

    • I shot the Principal a quick email to ask about if the supplies were for the children or for the teachers. My intent is that, if she replies that some are for the teacher's use, to then take it up with the school board. I was a teacher once and I know that they can't provide school supplies for their students, but NEITHER CAN I, except for my own kids. If the school can't provide for the teachers' basic needs, then they need to tweak the budget somehow. One or two items for teacher use are understandable, but every year the list gets longer. On top of school supplies, it's uniforms and lunches and field trips and yearbooks, etc. I understand that it's all a part of raising a child, but I don't think that gives the schools free license to ask the parents for the things they can't get. What about picking different activities that don't require those materials? What about making due with a smaller list of materials? What about starting with a small list and telling parents when supplies need to be replenished?

      But, anyway, when I sent the email to the principal, I was also curious about how the supplies are handled when a student of low-income cannot provide the necessary supplies for him- or herself. I'm assuming that my kids' school supply lists are so long because the amount requested from every child is actually inflated to account for these students who bring little or nothing. I guess my take on that is this: I don't mind being asked to help out. I would actually be very willing to donate to people in need. But I don't want to feel like it is expected of me, without question. Like, if you started a new job and were told, "Well, all the employees give to the United way, so I've set it up to have X dollars automatically deducted from your paycheck each week."

      I struggled with what to do, because I knew that sending the email to the principal would probably start the year off on the wrong foot for me. If I could just let it go, maybe this year would go more smoothly. But my niggling annoyance got the better of me and I sent the email. When editing my message, I decided to ask the question about supplies for low-income families first, but in a different way. I said:

      Are you able to tell me, how do students receive supplies if they are in financial need and cannot provide their own? Is there a need for that?

      And, suddenly, I felt pretty crappy. Writing out those questions forced me to look at myself. In the moment that I thought I was being so smart, crafting my question in a way that wouldn't make me look selfish, I realized that I wasn't smart at all, but actually I was being selfish. I was so concerned with my kids bringing an extra box of crayons to school that I forgot about the kids who don't have any crayons at all. For some families, Back-to-School supplies means only leftovers from last year. And there will be no new shoes, no new backpack, no new lunch box. Our money is tight, but we're not strapped. We have been blessed. We have enough.

      A few extra dollars for school supplies, that will be put to good use, are a few dollars that I won't even notice. So I go without McDonalds a few times? If some students at school actually DO get free supplies because of the surplus I provide, I'll never know whether or not those families are truly in need. I'll never know if they had to choose between notbeook paper or cigarettes, and they chose cigarettes. It's not worth my time to worry about it because it's not up to me to decide who gets the school supplies, and it's completely out of my control. And, on the school's part, maybe they could make better use of the supplies they already have. Maybe they could ask parents to provide less and expect students to use half-crayons or last-year's pink pearl eraser. But, the truth is that if I can just let this go, I think I will be happier. I think it will make the relationship with my kids' teachers a little less confrontational. Maybe the whole thing will be more enjoyable, like it should be. Like usual, I'm a work in progress...

      This post is part of MamaKat's Writer's Workshop, in response to the question:
      Describe a time when you feel like you could have responded a different way and produced a different outcome.
      Except, the different outcome remains to be seen.

      Texan Mama


      Grandma Susan said...

      In the Wood County Schools in WV, there are no school supply lists. The School Board HAS provided funds for teachers for supplies so that those lists are not necessary.

      Jenners said...

      Visiting from Mama Kats...

      We're asked to provide school supplies but just for our own kid. It seems a bit much to ask for the stuff that should be in the classroom already. It is a weird little issue, but I see your point both ways. My son just started in "real" school and I was amazed the amount of stuff we were asked to send in or donate to or buy.

      And all these things do make me wonder about the kids who families can't afford it (or choose not to).

      Jennifer said...

      I am humbled. For real. I just bought all of Baby Girl's supplies and it was expensive. Three boxes of this kind of crayon and two of this and two kinds of markers and on and on. And her list isn't as bad as some of the others I've seen.

      Some of my friends on Facebook were talking about individually labeling all their kids supplies, like each pencil, so the teacher would know who they belong to "if they got lost." It kind of put me off, but then their attitude was kind of contagious and I was sitting here thinking that maybe I needed to do the same thing. We work hard for our money. Why should I buy supplies for other kids?

      And now I know. Because it is the least that I can do?

      Hot Tub Lizzy said...

      I've been on the other side. I've been the mom who didn't have the money to supply everything needed for my child. You know what hit me the hardest? Watching my child get on the bus with a not-full backpack on the first day of school. It was embarrassing and degrading and I felt physically sick. I was failing as a mom.

      No one ever said anything to me. My daughter just magically had notebooks and pencils and markers in her desk. I'm SOOOOOOO thankful for those parents who were able to buy extra, and did.

      We're in the process of looking for a new church, and the one that has caught my eye is one that recently did a HUGE project of collecting backpack and supplies and all those things to provide to kids whose families couldn't. We're going to go to church there this Sunday.

      Swizz said...

      When we were in school, we all had our own supplies boxes (pencil boxes) and we put our own supplies in them and had to keep up with them all year.

      I was one of the kids who didn't have. I was embarrassed that other kids had better things than I did. My parents did their best...when the stores did the school supply sales where stuff was almost free, my mom would go buy.

      But even doing that we barely got anything new. And FOR SURE we did not get school clothes. Or fancy backpacks.

      My first real backpack was in HIGH SCHOOL.

      My first new pair of jeans was in 6th grade. A pair of Lee jeans I was so proud of.

      I'm not sure how I feel about how school supplies are done now, but I know how I felt back then. And I'd NEVER want a kid to feel that way.

      When I was a teacher, at a private school, I had a student or two who didn't have. I would secretly provide what they needed so they weren't asking their neighbors to "borrow" and get embarrassed.

      Oh the "joys" of finances...

      Kirby said...

      Luckily for me, my little girls supplies didnt cost a whole lot, the most expensive thing was the darn Kindermat. And everything is for her. Hopefully. I think they should (if they can't provide for every kid) tell you what you need to get for YOUR kid, and then have a separate list for supplies that are optional to get if you can afford to help out. And if you can't no big deal. It just shouldnt be mandatory to buy the teachers supplies also, just optional.

      Susan's Blog said...

      I agree 100%. Amazingly, I just wrote a blog on this subject this week, with a little different twist. There are a number of issues at hand here--one is the excessiveness of the list to begin with. I do not believe that the school NEEDS Handy Wipes, paper plates or Ziplock Bags--these are nice to have, but could be easily done without. We have become a society of excesses, and we need to re-learn to use things up and wear them out. It is imperative for teachers to model frugality and to respect the oft-time limited incomes of the families of their students. I know this can easily be done because I was a teacher for 20 years. Everyone has a soft spot for needy children and wants to soften the impact of their situation. However, there are a lot of nearly-needy families that really can't afford to supply other children, and supplying for the needs of these precious children should not be mandated on them. This should be transparent, list each child's actual needs, and then offer parents and the community the opportunity to donate listed items to needy families and to the school, if they can afford it. I suspect the cabinets would be over-flowing with contributions, and parents would not be put in the situation to examine their conscience over a very valid point.
      Thank you for an excellent, well-written blog!
      You can read my blog on school supplies at

      Ash said...

      Very well done - love it, and your take on it.

      Hubs is in downtown Fort Worth today handing out backpacks, supplies, etc. to kids who really need it. (his company volunteers - his third year)

      Tonight, he will come home with stories of parents who stood in line for two hours to get their child's haircut, or of a little boy who couldn't believe that that cool backpack was "all mine?!," or of that Dad who will give him a silent handshake because he's too embarassed to have to be there in order to provide for his family.

      I don't mind hauling around looking for supplies. I'm able. Thank God.

      Screwed Up Texan said...

      If I were to purchase all the school supplies for my children, plus the backpacks, plus the new pair of shoes and clothing that kids want, I would easily be over $100 per child. I have three children and even the tax free weekend we have around school time here in Texas is a joke compared to what I'll save and the hassle I'll through. Spending $100 saves me $8 and puts me in a witchy PMS mood battling w other parents. Whoopty-do.

      I am in a situation where paying off bills, paying bills, and feeding my children take precedence over spending ridiculous amounts of money on school supplies. So, we are buying our three children one new pair of shoes, one outfit, one backpack (one is getting handed down), and one binder. The rest of the school supplies will be taken care of through hopefully gracious parents who did buy the extra supplies. And you know what? I don't feel badly about it.

      Foursons said...

      My school district cut all that stuff off the list this year. I was shocked but very happy.

      June Freaking Cleaver said...

      When my older daughters were in school, I never had to buy any supplies - the school handled it all.

      And even my 15 year old didn't need supplies until we moved out of W. PA.

      When I got to KY, I was stunned at the list and the expense.

      And then I found out that the supplies I bought went into the "pool" in the supply closet - so I had to wrap my head around that.

      staceysmotheringmoments said...

      I've been frustrated about similar things, but haven't had your insight. Thank you so much for sharing it. I will definitely buy school supplies with a more giving heart this year!

      Thanks for stopping by earlier. I really appreciated your comment!

      mama hall said...

      i appreciate this post. some people need to think before they gripe. some people need that humbling moment that you had.
      thank you!

      mama hall said...

      i appreciate this post. some people need to think before they gripe. some people need that humbling moment that you had.
      thank you!

      Emily said...

      Great post. In the thick of it, it is easy to gripe and complain but it does seems so small when considering the big picture.

      Bridgett said...

      I've taught in schools of lowest-income families, where all supplies were "provided" by the school (but no copy paper for me, or cleaning supplies); I've taught in low- to middle-income schools where nothing at all was provided.

      You get by. Yeah, it's tougher in first grade than in a middle school math classroom, but even there, as a teacher, I scrounged together calculators to loan out.

      Now, my kids are at a low-middle-high income charter school. Last year they expected us to provide TOILET PAPER. This year they are not insane, but being a montessori, things are shared property--there are no desks in kindergarten to put all your stuff. The only personal items are a folder for home-school communication and lunch box/bookbag type of stuff. My 4th grader has more of her own stuff but still lots of in-common supplies for the class. I don't mind any of this EXCEPT the scissors. Three years in a row, scissors never came home and then showed up on the next year's list? Where are all these going?? So I labeled Sophia's last year and they came home. I don't care who uses them during the year, I just don't want to shell out for a durable thing like that every time (note: montessori classrooms are multi-age and she was in the same room for three years).

      Anna See said...

      My daughter didn't like that her special folders (with puppies on them) and other supplies all went into a pool.

      That said, we are having a school supply drive at church for kids in our town who can't buy school supplies.

      I haven't done any back to school shopping yet. A) I haven't decided where my kids are going to school. Crap.

      B)Money is tight

      C)I can't believe summer is almost over!

      E said...

      We are all of us a work in progress. It is the evolution that counts. Nice work Mama

      lonestarlifer said...

      I have a friend who teaches in inner-city St. Louis, MO. His school cannot (does not?) provide his copy paper and of course, the kids have very,very little. I've made it my mission to make sure he has copy paper and that his students have at least the bare minimum. I'm so proud of how hard he has worked with them & for them, and how much they improved their math and reading levels last year. It seems so little to provide for those who can't. If we don't provide for them now and help them get an education, we will certainly be helping provide for them on down the road. If anyone is interested in reading about this class, check out my blog and do a search for SuperStars. I'll be helping again this year if you would like to help.