Going Back to School: The 1970s vs Today


Back to School, 1970s:

1. Take the kids downtown to go shopping at Sears for back to school clothes the last week of August. Get everyone a new pair of corduroys and a striped tee shirt. Buy the boys a pair of dungarees and the girls a pair of culottes. No, Jennifer, you can’t have that orange and red poncho. Promise you will crochet her a better one with much more fringe. Get the girls a package of that rainbow, fuzzy yarn they like in their hair. You are done. You have spent a total of $43.00. Now take everyone to the Woolworth’s lunch counter for grilled cheeses and chocolate milk.

2. On the night before the first day of school (that would be the Sunday night after Labor Day, of course, you know, mid-September) throw the kids in the way back of the station wagon and drag them downtown to Eckerds, K-Mart, Ames, Dollar General, Drug Fair or the like and hurry them over to the back-to-school area to pick out a lunchbox. Make sure to tell them get a move on because you don’t have all night for them to make a damn decision. They need to get in bed by eight and yes, they’re going to miss the Wonderful World of Disney if they can’t decide between The Fonz and Dukes of Hazzard. Good Lord, why is it so hard for them to pick? Tell Kimberly if she can’t make up her mind between Holly Hobbie and The Bionic Woman then you’re going to pick Pigs in Space and you don’t want to hear another word about it until June. Grab a composition book for each of them and a pack of pencils too. That’s all they need. Remember to save some grocery bags so they can cover their textbooks with them after the first day of school.

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3. Buy yourself a pack of Virginia Slims on the way out and smoke three of them on the way home.

4. Get up in the morning and make yourself a cup of Sanka with Sweet ‘n’ Low. Line up all the lunchboxes on the formica counter top in your kitchen. Open up a bag of Wonder Bread and do this assembly line style.
bologna5. Spread yellow mustard on bread. Slap bologna on bread. Unwrap American cheese slices and put on top of bologna. Put top on the sandwich and wrap sandwich in tin foil or wax paper. Put it in the lunchbox. Every kid gets the same exact lunch. Period.

6. Alternate sandwich choices could include: Peanut butter and grape jelly, peanut butter and marshmallow fluff, the end of last night’s leftover roast beef or the ever popular with children tuna fish with large chunks of onions and celery and Miracle Whip.

7. Put some Planter’s Cheese Balls into a baggie and close with a twist tie.

8. Take Twinkies out of the box. Put one in each child’s lunch box.


9. Fill thermoses with either Kool-Aid or whole milk.

10. Include a red delicious apple even though you know that damned apple is just going to come home uneaten again, which is fine because you can keep adding the same one until it practically rots.

11. Close the lunchboxes. You’re done. Go put some Barry Manilow on the record player and celebrate that your kids are out of the house until dinner time. They’ll grab them, along with a frosted, dutch apple Pop-Tart on the way out the door as they walk a half mile down the road to get to the bus stop.

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Back to School, 2014

1. Take five deep breaths and say a positive affirmation. School begins in two weeks. It is the middle of July. Don’t worry, you still have time to order BPA-free bento boxes and authentic Indian tiffins made with special stainless steel that did not involve any child-labor, sweat shops or animal cruelty. Remember, you have Amazon Prime. You can get the free two day shipping and you will have plenty of time to read reviews and make this very important decision because your kids are in summer “camp” which is actually just another word for school in the summer because OH MY GOD you were so tired that day you had to have them home all day with you and you couldn’t go to your restorative flow class at yoga. And that was also the day something went terribly wrong with the homemade glitter cloud dough recipe that was supposed to go in their sensory bin and the very same day that they were out of soy milk at Starbucks and you had to immediately email corporate to let them know that duh, they should actually be selling almond milk and/ or coconut milk. Get with it Starbucks. Soy is so 90s. Ugh, but you digress. The tiffin. The bento boxes…

2. One Week Later: The bento boxes and tiffins have arrived. So has your childrens’ school’s annual list of school supplies that you must purchase and deliver. It is three and a half pages long. It includes a ten pound bag of flour and several cleaning products and also requests a Costco-sized package of toilet paper.


3. Begin frantic online search for backpacks and school bags made from all natural materials yet still “cool.” Have them monogrammed.

4. Take kids shopping at the mall for new school clothes. Buy them each a completely new wardrobe from Gymboree and Crew Cuts. Spend $2,387.07 on your credit card.

5. Take children to the child psychologist to prepare them mentally for the difficult transition to a new grade, new teacher and new classroom.

6. Intently study the allergy list the school has sent you which lists all the items that other children in your children’s classes are allergic to and thus cannot be sent in your child’s lunch either. This is extremely stressful because the last thing you (or anyone) wants to be responsible for is sending a second grader into anaphylactic shock. Make notes on your phone so you can remember what not to buy when you go to Whole Foods.

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7. Purchase school supplies for your children. Not to be confused with the 3 1/2 page list of classroom supplies you are also responsible for. They will need paper, pens, folders, notebooks, a calligraphy set, fifteen new apps for their tablets, a graphing calculator, a scalpel, an electron microscope and a centrifuge.

8. Go to Whole Foods to shop for school lunch items. This will take 4 hours and 15 minutes because you have to read every single label to make sure you are purchasing organic, locally sourced, non-GMO, gluten-free, allergy friendly products. You come home with tahini, bananas and a package of brown rice cakes. You somehow spent $76.19.


9. The night before the first day of school prepare the bento boxes. Fill containers with organic, local strawberries intricately cut into the shapes of sea creatures. Include homemade, nut-free granola made with certified gluten-free oats. Make a sandwich on vegan hemp bread out of tahini, kale and jicama. Form it into the shape of your child’s favorite Disney character. Make flowers out of non-dairy cheese slices, olives and seaweed. Photograph the finished Bento Box and post it to Instagram.

10. Write your child an encouraging note which includes an inspirational quote.

11. Include a sheet of stickers for good measure.

12. Fill a Siig bottle with filtered water and also include a box of chilled coconut water in the Bento Box because children can never be too hydrated. Ever.

13. Blog about this experience. Pray it goes viral and is picked up by HuffPo.

14. Get up at 4AM on the first day of school. Make first day of school signs for each child to hold as you photograph them on the front step. Make a bunting to hang above the front door. Blow up balloons. Actually, go ahead and make a full on back to school photo booth.


15. Make pancakes in the shape of the letters of the alphabet.

16. Dress kids in coordinated outfits and spend 35 minutes posing and photographing them (with your phone).

17. Load everyone into the car to drive them to school.

18. When they are safely in their new classrooms, return to your car to cry for the next 20 minutes. But it’s okay, really. You’ll be back in six hours to pick them up and drive them to Synchronized Swimming, Cello and Urdu classes this afternoon.

Related post: 10 Ways to Give Your Kid a 1970’s Kind of Summer


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  1. says

    hysterical…my kids only get new backpacks when their old ones are so old they are falling apart, my 7yr old still has the same one she had in kindergarten and she is now in 2nd grade…my oldest daughter is the only one that got a new backpack this year cause her backpack of 5 years finally broke LOL….my middle child had a new backpack a few years ago, but then she took over my oldest daughters backpack the she didn’t like…..last year and is still using that one….that one is at least 4 years old…..and lunch boxes? HAHA….those are those brown paper bags! their school finally stopped asking for cleaning supplies and tissue and all that crap this year, I think they learned no one buys it!!!! they still want the kids to have 50 pencils, when I buy my kids 6 pencils each to last them the year and ONE set of things for THEIR personal use…..

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      • Special Ed Teacher says

        You don’t have to, but it’s nice to contribute to the classroom so that your child’s teacher doesn’t have to spend hundreds of dollars of their own money on it. If every parent contributed a little, it would help out a lot. Schools do not have the funding (this is a nation-wide problem) to provide necessary supplies for teachers to start the year off with. Hope you have a nice school year! Appreciate the caring and generous people who nurture, love, and teach your child(ren) every day!

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      • Joany says

        I agree with you, why should we hard working parents have to buy bulk supplies for the entire classroom? I have one kid, but I must send an arsenal of supplies? I think some teachers really over estimate what their room will need. I’ve volunteered in my child’s class before and saw gross misuse of supplies by students and the teacher said nothing.

        Oh, to the comment by another poster: You state we should “appreciate the caring & generous people who nurture, love & teach your child every day”, I promise you, none of those loving, caring, altruistic teachers would be there if it were not for their PAY.

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    • Shawn says

      yes! I prefer my child use soap and water instead of all that sanitizer! I remember when one of my kids got their supply list for kindergarten and it had RED ink pens and permanent markers on it. NO Way was there a need for a 5 year old to use those. I’m not supplying the teacher HER supplies as well as my child. ive seen some strange things on those supply list to include disposable cameras! What do our county tax dollars pay for? they can supply soap? God help your girls if they should need a sanitary napkin! Back in the 80’s there were pencil machines in the hall next to the office where you could buy a pencil for 10cents, like a candy machine.

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      • alya says

        Teachers ask for all these supplies because the school systems don’t pay for them anymore, and we pay teachers so poorly that they ask the parents to help out. I am happy to supply our teachers with whatever they need to make my kid’s education better. I want the good teachers to stay!

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        • jackk f says

          God knows property owners don’t pay enough taxes for schools to purchase supplies. My local grade school secretary earns $125K/yr. Perhaps, if his salary was a bit more reasonable the school would have their supply funds. Comment as you see fit.

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          • Julie says

            What?! That’s unbelievable. My hubs has been a teacher for over 10 years. I can assure you he’s making nowhere near that amount. :) In fact, he spends a lot of his own money on school supplies for his classroom.

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          • Tammy says

            Wow! I’m a school secretary and make $10 an hour. I have a degree but I sit here for nearly nothing because I want to be with my kids. But truly at $10 an hour, I can’t buy anything extra. I’d like to know the school district that pays their secretary $125K! I want to apply for that one!

            And it is true the extras that are asked for are used in the classrooms. If you don’t send, that’s fine, but your kid just may not have a kleenex if they need it. Sorry. Do without.

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          • Joanne says

            Where the heck is your school district??? As a full- blown accredited sixth grade teacher I earned a SMALL fraction of that much, and I still spent hundreds of dollars each year on supplies to make my teaching more effective! I also put on the supplies list oly what I planned that the kids would use. I still had to buy an awful lot of that because parents chose not to equip their kids. Education is a joint effort,and many of my parents were willing to do their share. Teachers are not over-paid. We are into it for the outcome and not the income, but there’s still a limit to how far our paychecks will stretch. The list i sent home was not three pages long, mind you, but there was definately more on it than ppencils and paper.

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          • NCF says

            OK- I teach at a charter school, K-6, where I have a salary of about 26K per year. But I have already spent WELL over $200.00 on general classroom supplies. Mine is a “specials” classroom, and I don’t otherwise have things like scissors, gluesticks and gluebottles, tissues, coloring supplies ( I buy colored pencils- they last longer than crayons or markers) classroom pencils, erasers,tape, staples, overhead film markers, dry-erase markers, even sometimes my own copy paper. I get bellyaching from some of the well-off parents about asking each 3rd- 6th grader to provide a sewn-in composition (regular paper, not staff paper) book for Music, and a paper 3-prong-2- pocket folder for Spanish reference and homework ( no designer or character decoration required). So, once again, I was at the local office supply store last night to get a few more 15 cent folders for those kids whose parents just didn’t think they should stretch that far. OF course, these same kids have every known electronic gaming system, iPhones, iPads, as well as Cable or Satellite TV service, and expensive sports shoes, while I have been buying used notebook computers to do my teacher work when the latest one dies, for years. I have no sink in my room this year, so hand-washing requires being sent out of the room (handling the doorknob on the way). So, if your kiddo sneezes and smears his snot all over his face, well, no tissues, too bad.

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          • Tiffany R says

            Wow! Where do you live that a secretary is making a three figure salary!? I am a PhD and a full time professor at a state university and I make under $50,000 a year. The grade school teachers in my area make anywhere from 27K to 80K depending upon their seniority and their district. Secretaries make between 24K and 48K. I know for a fact that many of the teachers have to buy their own supplies – I’ve seen them at Walmart and talked to them about it. It isn’t the teachers or schools that are getting all of the money, it is the school district administration getting the high salaries. There is also unbelievable waste in many budgets with schools buying a tablet or laptop computer for each and every student student, meanwhile there is no funding for art, music, and phys ed (and increasingly no funding for special ed).

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          • BelovedbyHim says

            Jackk f- I am looking for a job. Can you please let me know the name of your school district so I can apply there!!! Heck I’d do the job for $100K!!! Save the district $25K a year!!!!

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          • Maeve Steinert says

            I am a principal’s secretary in New York City making NOWHERE NEAR that amount of money. I don’t know where you live but, I will move myself to wherever that is and be delighted to work in your school district making big bucks like that.

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          • Martha says

            I have worked in the public school system as an elementary school secretary/bookkeeper for almost 20 years. I make $18.00/hr. I am contracted to work 7.5 hrs. a day for 205 days a year. However, I work 9.5 hours a day from 6:30 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. I eat lunch at my desk most days. However because there is so much to do I work 20 days for FREE.
            I have to be trained to give medicine for students with ADHD, seizures, diabetes, allergies, etc., I clean up students who have messed in their pants, clean bloody noses, knees, arms, and legs, and vomit.
            I have to put the substitute teachers in our online substitute system and make sure they are at school by 7:10 a.m. I keep track of sick/personal days for all faculty staff and complete the payroll. I get audited every year on three different school budgets. I do all the ordering for the school and pay the bills, answer phone calls, greet parents,
            The best part of my job is to have our 1st and 2nd grade students come to my office as a reward. They want to show me how well they are reading. It is so fulfilling to see how proud and excited they are. Many of our students do not get the help they need at home.
            I volunteer with the PTO sponsored programs after school. Why do I do all this? I do it for our students and teachers. We have an awesome school and many parents who move to our rural area want to enroll their students at our school – many who will drive 30 minutes or more to come to us for out of district enrollment. Our teachers and staff truly care for our students and do their best to make sure each child learns – regardless of income or race.. We are the top rated school in our district and we have 65% of students on free/reduced lunches.

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        • Britta Spencer says

          Right on! Me, too. I know quite a few educators and they all spend hundreds of dollars each year on supplies. I usually will buy an extra set of student supplies that I give to the teacher to allocate to a student in need as well. If a student shows up without any school supplies, it’s often the teacher that must cover it. Sure, that child’s parents are technically responsible for supplying that child with what they need, but the only thing that we know about the situation is that it’s not the child’s fault they are ill equipped for school. We have no idea what’s going on it that child’s home, either, so compassion should always fall before judgment. I support quality education for all, because when we raise everyone up, we’re bringing ourselves up with them.

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        • kathy says

          I agree, my daughter is out of school now, but I would buy extra pens, pencils, hand santizer, paper etc. I know the teachers do not get paid enough and the school system doesn’t buy them some of the things they will need. I was a bus driver and in and out of my daughters school a lot. So I saw what was going on in her class. I would start buying when the ads came out with all the school supplies on sale and go stock up. As my daughter got older, she really didn’t like me doing it but she understands where I was coming from.

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          • Bt says

            EXCUSE ME? 40K/yr for an easy degree may seem like plenty, and the degree may be easy compared to something like biochemical engineering, but THE job is far from easy. Who has to deal with your overactive, highly disruptive 6 year old FOR 9 HOURS A DAY? But a teacher sure can’t disciple them, obviously, as it might hurt their feelings, and yeah, get the school you work for slapped with a lawsuit. Then when your disruptive six year becomes a whiny little 13 year old who does whatever he/she wants because, well, he/she’s never been told no, god help THE TEACHER. Is told to stop talking? Won’t happen. Do their homework? Doubtful. Then when your precious kid is failing the class, whose fault is it? Somehow, THE TEACHERS. But you can’t fail the kid, because well, “it will fuck up their future” and yes, negatively effect the teacher. By the time your shit kid enters high school, they are barely scraping by. Their parents buy them everything they want or need, and their passing their classes, so yeah, life is pretty good. FOR THEM. Not for the teacher, who can’t get them to pay attention, can’t get them to stop texting, can’t get them to focus. And when evals come around (and they always do), it blows back up in the teachers face.

            Since you think a teacher is so overpaid, become a teacher. After all, it’s so fucking easy, right? And you’d clearly are making more than you’re worth.

            Before you procreate (and I certainly hope you haven’t), remember that kids will waste all of your money, resources, time and energy, and you won’t get nothing out of it. You’ve clearly lead a very privileged life, and honestly, I do not think you’re ready for responsibility it takes to be a parent to someone.

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      • Suzanne says

        OMG, hand santizer and hand wipes, cuz the 2 sinks in the classroom of 17 kids couldn’t possibly work for hand washing! I refused to buy disposable hand wipes and told the teacher as much. So freakin wasteful! And school supplies for the entire class? Really?!
        I miss the 70s and 80s. My DD must have been channeling this cuz this year for her lunchbox, instead of the insulated thing my hubby wanted her to get, she picked out a sweet metal lunchbox instead and said “Old School!” ha!!

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      • aymeejeanette says

        WoW! Your child spends all day- at least seven hours- five days a week with their teacher and you don’t want to help buy “her” supplies? A teacher is the least expensive child care professional you will ever have to “pay” for (with your taxes). I’d love to earn even $2.00 an hour per student in my class…that would give me the pay that I actually deserve and then I’d be able to afford the $300 worth of class supplies which I bought already for this new school year. I’m commenting directly to “Shawn” comment # 40- I hope that your child gets the exact type of teacher that you are as a parent :) poor selfish attitude and all!

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        • Sally says

          Wow to you! If you read Shawn’s comment you would have noticed the complaint was about the fact there is a damn sink in the classroom and they don’t use it. Instead they expect parents to provide wasteful wipes and cleaners. Hand washing is always preferred ! Most of us do NOT send kids to school for day care. If that were the case we wouldn’t send them to teachers like you who complain about a profession they chose! I would gladly take your days, hours and vacation time any day. And before you bitch about taking your work home BULL If you have to take it home in second grade you are doing something wrong.

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          • Katie says

            You are probably one of those people who thinks that since they were a student once they know what it’s like in the classroom, right? You don’t have a clue. And if you had actually read amyjeanette’s comment you would know that she was responding to SHAWN, not SUZANNE (sound them out, they’re different words), who didn’t say anything about having a sink in the room. I agree that washing your hands with soap and water is better, but do you know how disgusting things in the classroom get? I wouldn’t want to sit at a desk covered in snot, boogers, and who knows what else. Never mind all the other stuff they touch. If any teacher worked only the hours the students attended, but especially elementary teachers, who only get a break when (or if) the kids go to PE, when would anything get done? You realize that teachers have to actually PLAN the things that they’re going to do the next day, right? And those lessons had better be interesting to overcome the fact that most kids have the attention span of a fruit fly since many parents can’t be bothered to interact with their children and simply plop them in front of the tv for hours at a time. I doubt you’d last a week as a teacher.

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          • Becca says

            1st of all she said nothing about taking her work home, so there’s no reason for you to be defensive about THAT.

            2nd, if students took the time to wash their hands properly every time they pick their nose, blow their nose, put their fingers in their mouths, butt crack, ears…honestly the list goes on, the amount of instructional time your child would actually receive would be greatly diminished. Seriously, even just using hand sanitizer for all those things take up about 5-10 minutes a day, per kid. (She probably has 22+ students she’s responsible for…you do the math. Oh and thank a teacher that you can.) That’s not even during flu season. Also, if she merely trusted kid hand washing, your child would perpetually have pink eye, strep throat, the flu… do I really need to continue? I’m sure she makes her students wash their hands after the bathroom and before lunch, but she also wants your kid to survive childhood so she also gives them a squirt of hand sanitizer.

            3rd, even though you are rude, selfish, entitled, and have the attitude that everyone in the world but YOU should raise YOUR child, she would and will gladly spend her own money to be sure YOUR child doesn’t feel left out when everyone else gets to participate but them. I’m sure she would also gladly spend her summers, weekends, and evenings researching, going to classes, preparing, grading, and planning to ensure that YOUR child has their best chance at life and a successful future. She will gladly hug your child when they are sad, tie their shoes without complaint, wipe their snotty noses, and let their fevered, germ filled self sit in her lap while she waits the 2 hours for you to pick up YOUR sick kid… and still come to school before you’re out of bed to make sub plans to ensure your child still gets an education when she’s sick at home because of your sick kid.

            I’m not sure what your problem with teachers is, but you better hope the teachers your kids have treat your child with even an ounce more compassion and kindness than you had for the people who are responsible for the well-being and education of what should be the most important part of your life.

            Oh and if you don’t like it, take your kids out of public school and do it yourself… We’ll see how long THAT lasts…

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          • mama says

            I dislike having to send my child in with neutral folders so they can be contributed to everyone. My child wants to pick out fun, original things but we are mandated that everyone must have the exact same thing.

            Also, to teachers who CONSTANTLY complain about their pay, lets not forget that you’re only working 200 +/- days a year. You get many summer weeks off, 2 weeks at Christmas, another at Spring break, and every holiday in between. You also work shorter days than most professionals. You can’t seriously expect your pay to match those in the business world who work all year with 2 weeks off. Also,you chose this profession…you could easily have gone into another field but this was your choice. You knew you weren’t going to get rich, so stop bitching about it ALL.THE.FREAKING.TIME.

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      • Michael says

        Depending on the grade level, some teachers use peer review as a means of teaching some lessons. The red pens and markers may be for students to use when reviewing the work of others.

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    • david soria says

      I carried a pencil in my shirt pocket and rolled up tablet paper in my jeans, that was my supplies, now a days a child’s supplies cost mover then my 70s wardrobe.

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    • Jacki says

      As a teacher I can tell you I make nothing close to the salary quoted for the school secretary and if I don’t get help from some parents with some supplies, like tissues, I am buying them with my own money. We ask you to send in two boxes for the whole year – in cold & flu season a box will hardly last a day. Teachers are always digging into their own pockets so it is not unreasonable to expect the actual parents of the students to supply a box of tissues or two.

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      • Amanda says

        I never bring tissues at the beginning of the year… I always just ask the teacher to email me when she needs more and I hit up Costco. I’m confused by dry erase markers… Schools used to supply chalk, do they not supply dry erase now that they don’t use chalk boards? Also, specific colored folders, Pringles cans (we don’t eat those), black socks?, and 48 sharpened, yellow, #2 pencils? 48??? I never used that many in a year and I was the queen of losing pencils!

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        • sara says

          My school does not supply dry erase markers. They are much more expensive than chalk. Specific colored folders help with organization. Socks could be erasers for individual dry erase boards? That’s what my mom did in her class room. Pringles cans could be for a project or storage. Teachers like when parents take an interest in their child’s class so it doesn’t hurt to ask what they are being used for.

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          • Not a Teacher says

            Insight: the reason students are asked to bring their own dry erase markers (which are for their own use, when they go to write something on the board) is that they won’t put the caps back on the markers if they’re community property that remain in the tray after use. So they are constantly drying out. If the markers are their own property, it’s hoped they will be a little more conscientious. That only works if their own parents enforce a respect for resources at home, which is not universally the case. The same thing happens if the classroom supplies things like pencils and erasers instead of requiring students to bring their own: every day the trash can is full of pencils snapped in half and erasers creatively dismembered or impaled. The thoughtful among us might recognize this as a symptom of a larger problem and a warning for the future.

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        • marchie says

          The dry erase markers that are requested on my supply list are for the children to use. They each have a small white board at their desk to use. I purchase my own markers for “teacher use”, as they school does not supply those for me.

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