On Friday I was at Target looking to buy 30 plastic folders for my classroom. I overheard the conversation another customer was having on the phone. She said that the kids don't need the stuff on the school supply list. "Why THREE packs of pencils? All we're doing is buying supplies for poor people who don't send stuff in!" Because her child will likely only go through 12 or so pencils this year, right? Then it got even better…"They might as well just put 'Blouse size 12' on the list because I'm surprised the teachers don't want the parents to buy them new clothes too."
It took every ounce of self-control I had to not say anything. What stopped me was thinking, "God, her kid's probably in my class" because I was only about 3 miles from my school building. After a hellacious year in 2012-2013, I do not (please God) want difficult parents. I can't deal with that again.
Let's add in the fact that this particular mom didn't have kids with her, but many of the other parents in the school supply aisles did. There was kicking, screaming, and fit-throwing. Mothers looking haggard this far into the summer. Please, summer, be over soon, I could practically hear them pleading. I could feel the exasperation in the air. Soon, teachers would be taking over the daylight hours and these parents could peruse Target school-age-kid-free.
I, as I rarely do, took to Facebook because over half of my Facebook friends are teachers. I do wish there was a way to publicly shame this woman though because she deserved it. For the record, she was white, blonde, middle class, and had a cart full of goodies. Scott said he would have shaken her hand and said, "Hi, my wife is your kid's teacher and she wears a small, thanks".
This wasn't an issue of "I can't afford to buy my kid's school supplies". That's another teacher plight entirely.
But, I'm not here to complain about buying stuff for my classroom. In fact, NO teacher goes into a school year without spending some serious money. And here's the thing: WE DON'T CARE THAT IT COSTS US MONEY. We enjoy it! I don't know the policy in my new district well, but I think I get reimbursed for everything that stays with the school. So if I buy myself a planner or fancy pens, that's my own money. If I buy folders for the kids or decorations that will stay when I leave, I'll be paid back for them. I don't even know what I've spent so far because I'm bad at keeping track of my receipts. I think I have $80 worth of receipts right now that I'm hoping to be reimbursed for. Some decorations, lots of art supplies, a calendar set. I don't really remember. I'd buy the stuff even if I WASN'T hoping to be reimbursed. That's how being a teacher works.
At my first school in Alaska, I was given $125 a year to do whatever I wanted with. And it went quickly. $30 always went to homework folders. I always spent about $30-$40 on crayons/markers because they're super cheap this time of year and I like to give out art supplies as special prizes. The rest went to decorations or books from the used bookstore or book order. It probably cost me $500 to get started my first year, and that was just before the month of September. Holidays cost money, birthdays cost money, etc.
In Missouri, I spent $200 in one weekend on just decorations. I'd left a lot of my stuff in Alaska because I didn't know if I'd be teaching again, and I had 4 days to set up a classroom. Decorations aren't cheap. I never saw a cent of that back. And I spent more as the year went on…they didn't reimburse for anything at my school there. You could order from the catalogs and it could be approved and ordered and you might see it eventually…but teachers don't have that kind of time. Usually teachers put in orders in the spring so supplies are delivered in August. I didn't have that luxury. In fact, I remember asking for black Sharpie markers and they didn't have any. They put them on the list for the next time someone went "on a run". I saw TWO Sharpies show up in my mailbox about 6 weeks later. By that time, I'd already bought my own markers. Last year was an expensive one because I couldn't plan ahead, I just had to buy what I needed. But the thing was: I didn't care. It didn't bother me that I had to spend that money…I had a classroom again and I was eager to design it to my liking. I just look at it as part of the job.
I am not saying that being a teacher is the most difficult job. It's not an easy job by any stretch, but I can name many people who work harder than me. For example, I would never claim that I work harder than Scott. I just don't. I never have and probably never will (unless he decides to become a professional hunter). I work differently. It takes a special kind of work ethic to entertain, manage, and funnel knowledge into 30 children at the same time. And to keep your sense of humor, your health, and your energy level while doing it isn't easy, but it's not that hard. Some people are just better built for it. It's not easy, but it's not back-breaking labor. And I'd rather manage kids that adults. I chose this. And there's a reason why I keep going back to it, year after year. Especially because, state after state and move after move, I've had to put effort into finding new positions. I haven't just rolled from one year to the next.
Anyway, school starts in a couple of weeks, my classroom is already half put-together, and I've spent (I'm guessing) close to $200 on stuff. Maybe more. I truly haven't kept very good records because it's all necessary stuff….why add up the damage, right?
I mentioned that I wanted to make a display wall like this one, but I couldn't find the kind of 12x18 construction paper I wanted. I special-ordered it on Amazon. $6 for 50 sheets and now I will make a special trip to the school supplies store across town where I will pay 25 cents a foot to laminate it myself. It wasn't eligible for Amazon Prime's free shipping, so I paid $6 in shipping, but it did get here in 2 days (time is of the essence).
That's what I was thinking about as I listened to that mom complain: My special-order of construction paper that was hopefully already waiting for me on my porch.