Sunday, August 06, 2017

Kim Frencken: The Expense of Back-to-School for parents

As a teacher, I footed the bill for classroom supplies. I supplied markers, crayons, glue, pencils, pens, paper, highlighters, and just about anything else that I thought was necessary for teaching my kids. No, I'm not wealthy. Not even close, but I decided what I needed and figured it into my budget. If I couldn't afford it, I didn't buy it. If I didn't have it, I found a way to teach without it.

My original back-to-school supply list consisted of: pencils, one black or blue pen, paper, and 3-ring binder. The list eventually dwindled to pencil and paper. I never specified brand. I never specified an amount over one. 

When parents asked about the type of binder that I wanted, my reply was any type that would allow their child to keep track of assignments (back in the good 'ole days when we actually wrote on paper). I suggested one binder for all of their core classes and use dividers to keep the classes separate, rather than buy a different binder for each class. Buying numerous binders was an unnecessary expense. 

I could almost tell you word-for-word the conversations that I've had with parents over the years because on Open House night I spoke to the parents of over 150 kids. The words are burned in my memory. I tried to be aware of the expense for parents. I picked up supplies throughout the school year at close-outs, sales, yard sales, and discount stores. I was always on the look-out for supplies.

So this week, when I joined in a back-to-school shopping experience, my eyes were opened at how... well,... crazy things have become. I had a list for a kindergartener. The list was long. The list was specific by amount and name brand. Expensive name brands. Not just one or two of things. Quantities of three, four, twelve! I was told that the list was long and the quantities high so that parents who purchased supplies would also provide extras for students who didn't bring supplies.

I realize that teachers cannot supply every article for every student. I don't expect them to. I don't think anyone does. Teachers spend $100s or $1000s of their own each year on their classroom. There has to be a way to provide what is needed without breaking the teacher's or the parent's bank.

For starters make the list reasonable. Don't use a suggested list or list that another teacher uses. Think through your plans and determine what your students will need. Not things on a wish list, but things that your kids will really use in the school year. 

 Secondly, keep the list size minimal. A long list is not only expensive, but it is also overwhelming. Specifying large quantities of items and specific name brands puts undo pressure on parents. Store brands are often just as good as expensive name brands. 

 Thirdly, find out what supplies your school will supply. For example our school supplied basic colors of dry erase markers. If I wanted purple or pink that would be at my own expense. Next, ask your parent organization if they are providing any supplies. Some parent organizations will supply basics like pencils, paper, or glue. Quantities may be limited, but they may be available. Prepare a letter for parents explaining what is needed in the classroom and how it will be used. Even though I taught in a school district that had many students from low socio-economic backgrounds there was always someone willing to help out. They may have offered 100 pencils or 10 boxes of tissues. But I was grateful for each thing offered. Reach out to your community. Corporations may donate pens or pencils with their logo on them. Manufacturers may donate a product that they produce, like markers. And, lastly, dig through your left-over supplies (if there are any) and see what can be recycled for this year. Parents you can help by offering gently used supplies that are no longer in use at home. Play Dough that your kids are tired of, old crayons, slightly used erasers. Even though items are used, they can still be useful. School supplies don't have to be brand-new.

Going back-to-school shouldn't be a wildly expensive event. There are cost-effective ways to supply the classroom without burdening either the teacher or the parent. And you might run out of something before the year ends. Been there, done that! Partnering with parents before school starts with a well-defined list can help get your school year off to a good start.

(More of Kim Frencken's writing can be found at her blog, Chocolate for the Teacher.)


Anonymous said...

I have the utmost respect for school teachers and fully support a public education system. You obviously care about your students, but don't stress yourself out too much over these issues. You do not deserve that. This area votes predominantly for a conservative group that is trying to dismantle public education. I do not say this out of anger or with any malice. It is just a fact. SW Mo is extreme conservative, so if people cannot see the effect it has on them you should not carry that burden. If people do not like it, then they should leave. That is what I plan to do.

Anonymous said...

The reason for the brand name requests is that many off brands (crayons and paints, especially) do not work as well.
I agree that the list should not be so everyone is paying for others. Many teachers request multiple packs of crayons and pencils because they think they will last all year. Sometimes, parents think that one box of crayons will last a kindergartener or first grader all year.
Angie Besendorfer made all the lists the same and required that the lists not include some items deemed to be expensive. Teachers bought a lot and so did PTOs and buildings.
Need the supplies. Those who can, should help.

Anonymous said...

My Niece starts Kindergarten this year and I am floored by the amount of supplies they requested.
Thank you for all you have done for our children through the years.
I agree the supplies are completely out of control.

Anonymous said...

726...Conservatives want kids educated,NOT pass through a system that leads to functional illiteracy hence poverty...

Anonymous said...

Got that Mrs. Frencken? According to the self righteous 243, only Conservatives care about kids and they are not to be trusted in the hands of public schools.

Anonymous said...

359 obviously you have cognitive issues .Facts hurt.....

Anonymous said...

If your child is being passed through the system, isn't that the fault of the parent?