July 28, 2014

A teacher's plight

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.


  1. I'm not a teacher but am a social worker so hear similar commentary daily about who is milking our system....also mostly but the demographic you mentioned.

    It's so hard to not get brought into their madness with trying to educate them....

  2. P.S. There's lots of teacher hating here too. Some of them make really decent salaries and have summers off and are taking directly from the tax payers bank accounts ;)

  3. I'm dreading going to Target today for that reason. There have been times I've overheard someone, and they had asked me if my list contained those items she wasn't happy about and I would reply back why they need it and they'd walk away like I was the plague. One of my friends was complaining about her kiddo needing ear phones on FB and I wanted to comment on why but I kept it to myself.

    PS - interview Wednesday, keep fingers crossed!

  4. I have so much respect for teachers. Most of my friends are teachers, and I hear all their stories. Between parents, administration, and students you deal with a lot. I would go nuts!

  5. *sigh*
    I back to school shopped with all three kids and David.
    I've heard people make comments like this all the time & I just stare at them. I'm that parent that says, "if you need anything, let me know" or "what's leftover or lacking on the party supplies & I'll swing by with em before the party tomorrow" or things like that. I know it can't be cheap to decorate your room, host parties, give out prizes and gifts, etc etc on top of the actual supplies you need. Maddie almost didn't have a PreK graduation last year because the teachers couldn't afford it. We all pitched in, did a potluck, one mom ordered little hats, another decorated them, etc etc. But for real, that women was a bitch. Okay, maybe she's not REALLY but she definitely came across as one.

  6. Preach it! We don't have supply lists for high school and I've bought books, markers, poster boards, paint, and a bunch of other stuff. That doesn't even include decor stuff.

    I applaud you for holding your tongue. Because that woman is obnoxious. And her kid will go through most of those pencils.

  7. Great post! I was going to be a teacher (but because LAUSD was laying off while I was trying to be hired it didn't work out) but did end up spending a lot of time with teachers and I have tons of teacher friends... so I know the difficulties.

    I don't have kids yet but I have a niece and nephew and my mom always tries to buy things for the classroom. Last year Toys R Us had the 24 pack crayons Buy 1 Get 2 Free so I went ahead and bought enough for my nephews kindergarten class. This year my mom bought enough gluesticks for their classes. We always try to get enough of one thing for everyone in the class. I hope you have good parents in your class this year and that they contribute!

  8. You are by FAR a better and different kind of person than me. 1) Your passion for teaching is completely evident, and I love you for that (and your students and their parents should consider themselves lucky). 2) There are ALWAYS going to be people like that woman--but what pisses me off is that she has no right to complain. She SHOULD buy you new blouses and coffee and a house and a car and and and.. You (and people like you)are providing her child with the opportunity of a FUTURE. I have a few choice words that I'd like to say, but we'll keep this comment PG. <3

  9. All of my respect for those that choose to be teachers, I could never do it! And people like that lady in Target should just keep her mouth shut. I really hope for your sake she's not one of your student's parents!

  10. I think I told you before I almost became a teacher (and who knows, it isn't sadly difficult in Florida to become certified, so once we have kids, I may still do it? But the reason why I didn't is another story, for another day), and I have a lot of friends who are teachers. I also have a lot of friends who are not teachers and have children. I have one "friend" who complains every year about how much they need to buy. Since I'm not a teacher, I have to bite my tongue. Because it seriously drives me insane.

  11. Obviously, I already responded to this on FB. I could go on and on....

    Yesterday, I needed to kill some time in Altoona, so I went to Walmart. I want to put curtains in my room, and I was specifically looking for fabric. Then I walked by the school supplies. Yeah...notebooks were on sale for 25 cents. While I still didn't lay out $15 to buy one for every student (I see ALL of the 6th graders for reading), I did buy a couple dozen for students who don't get them. I spent about $40 on supplies that I wasn't even planning to buy, and I DO love it. It's one of my favorite things about being a teacher!

    I can even forgive her for complaining about buying the supplies. But saying that she should buy the teacher clothes....that's the part that really makes my blood boil. I do like Scott's comment, though! Haha

  12. I have to say, I really admire your attitude when you're saying that teaching is hard--but it's not the "hardest job in the whole entire world". I feel like I've heard so many people start getting into debates about who has the hardest and most stressful job (I've heard it a lot from teachers and nurses and cosmetologists...maybe those are just who I hang out with the most and every single career tries to claim that it's the worst...)

    I think...it's not a competition to see who has the most struggles in their job. Every job has its own problems.

    I feel like I will be on a very steep learning curve as I start teaching in a Chinese public school in a couple weeks!

  13. What the parents don't realize is we ask for these supplies because 99.5% of the time THEIR kid forgets their own pencil! I can't tell you how many times kids came to class w/o pens or pencils when I was student teaching and then the last two years, teachers I worked with had boxes in the back that had kids names on their pencils/pens in the box. It works! I have been shopping for my classroom for my new job and I have spent SO much because I have no idea what there is there and what I may need. I would rather buy it when its cheap then when its expensive!

  14. I love reading your posts about being a teacher. I can definitely tell you're fit for it! I wouldn't be so good at it, judging by my experience as a day camp counselor haha. Though I think I'd rather teach teens than kids.

  15. I admire you. Teacher get no respect. Thank you for being a teacher. I hope you enjoy your first year in Colorado.


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