As I was writing our agenda for the week yesterday, my dry erase marker mysteriously stopped working. I was puzzled. It was brand new, just out of the package, wrote for five minutes and gave up…
These mysteries are quite common and it doesn’t take a super sleuth to solve them. We teachers go through supplies at an alarming rate, and believe it or not, we are actually quite miserly with them. There must be a form of therapeutic catharsis in a student’s speedy crumple of a perceived failure that, despite my tale of the loss of my paper tree growing in the supply closet and “please draw on the back,”-it continues.
We buy classroom supplies before we buy groceries. We have systems put into place to extend the life of our supplies, yet we are in constant need of more.
It isn’t uncommon for teachers to begin the school year with no budget and no supplies. I was speaking with an elementary art teacher from Georgia last year, who in the fall was given a small box of glue sticks and 24 pencils to teach art for the entire school year.
Before becoming an employee at my children’s school, I was an active volunteer, so I had a window into the many needs that classroom teachers had throughout the school year. However, that back to school supply list was always staggering. Who goes through four boxes of tissues and 30 ballpoint pens in a school year? Well, we do… Things get broken, lost, absorbed, swept up, and stolen for starters. Not all of us teach in affluent neighborhoods with parent involvement and for every three students that purchase classroom supplies, there could be one who either can’t afford to do so, or just plain doesn’t. I became fully aware of this when I became the art teacher at a Title I renaissance public charter school in West Philadelphia. While my administrators seemed pleased to have me, when I brought up the subject, they were very evasive about the supply situation. I was not in a position to ask this underserved population of students to provide art supplies, so I did what most of us do every year- I bought the supplies that my students needed. And when it came around, I am embarrassed by my reaction to my own children’s school supply lists that year. I was extremely jealous. Here I was buying dozens of Expo markers, packs of crayons and colored pencils, reams of paper, when I possessed just one blue marker in my assortment of markers with which to teach art.
Needless to say, I bought the supplies, every last one. I knew that this was a small way of playing a part in the success of my children through the support of their teachers. And when they needed more paper and pencils, we bought them.
As the year went by I learned how to solicit donations, write wish lists, and promote my arts program at the school. Suddenly, I had an art budget. We had watercolors, printing foam, and new pastels. Then, at the end of the school year, a humbling thing happened… That June, my son came home with a backpack and tattered plastic shopping bag stuffed with supplies. Markers, crayons, colored pencils, glue sticks… “Why do you have all of this stuff?” I asked. “My teacher thought you could use them in the art room,” he answered.
I am now teaching at a certified private school, and while I realize I don’t have an endless budget for supplies, I feel that I lack for nothing. I am very, very lucky. I am filled with gratitude to be able to submit a supply list and have an order waiting for me in the office just a couple of weeks later. I must admit that I still giggle at the list of my children’s school supplies. Last week we made our annual back to school shopping trip. We checked off the list as we went. Highlighters, lined paper, graph paper, sharpened pencils, Post its, hand sanitizer, etcetera…”Wow,” I said, “sixteen dry erase markers!” Even though my son told me, “Mom don’t buy all that-we never, ever use them,” “Your teacher might,” I said, and bought them anyway…