You’ve gotten the back-to-school list by now. And you’re rolling your eyes. Because alongside the crayons and the glue, the pencils and specifically-colored folders and five-ring binders, are lists of other things. Boxes of tissues. Hand sanitizer. Dry erase markers.
Or maybe your kids are in high school, and you don’t get a back-to-school list anymore. Maybe you just get a reading list. Maybe you’re relieved not to buy all that stupid hand sanitizer anymore.
Please don’t be. And here’s why.
What they really need might not be on the list.
As the wife of a teacher, I’m pleading with you. Look at that back-to-school list, and then email his teacher and say, “What else do you need? I suspect you buy your own printer cartridges. What kind do you take?” Watch an adult break down in gratitude via electronic mail. They will remember you.
They desperately need paper.
Or you could just, you know, send in an extra ream of paper. Just stick two reams in your kid’s first day backpack, instead of the requested one. Put a sticky note on it with the words, “Here’s some paper to start the new year.” But you might want to warn your child that his teacher might cry. And if the teacher doesn’t cry, their spouse certainly will, later that night, because he or she knows how much they spend in printer paper, in copy paper, every year. I go to Target with a directive to purchase paper every single time I set foot under the big red bull’s eye — and that’s like, all the damn time. Yes, the district pays for some. But never enough. And that’s universal.
Just buy more stuff.
Or maybe when you hit up Target/Walmart/Dollar General with your kid’s back-to-school list, and you see all those killer deals on school supplies, you could just, you know, buy extra (if that’s possible with your budget). Email your kid’s teacher. Say, “I’m sending Jimmy in with 5 extra packs of pencils and 20 folders.”
Ever wonder why you see grown people, sans kids, throwing epic loads of cheap folders or pencils or binders or pens into their carts? They teach kids who can’t afford them. Kids whose parents will not buy the requisite things on that back-to-school list. Kids who will be lucky to show up with a backpack and a pencil, never mind those 5-ring binders. So teachers buy crap-tons of school supplies. I once saw a principal buying a literal cartful of 5 cent folders at Target. I hugged her.
Feed the children.
Kids can’t learn if they don’t eat. Hunger is real in America. According to Mashable, about 1 in 5 children struggle with hunger each year. One in five. 20%. 6 kids in a 30-kid classroom. Of course, there’s free lunch and free breakfast and sometimes free dinner. But kids slip through the cracks, especially older kids who have to get younger siblings off to school and can’t make it in time to grab said free breakfast. So most teachers keep a supply of easy, non-perishable foods — granola bars, for example — in their classrooms. We buy them in bulk on a regular basis. Send some of them to supplement the supply, along with the rest of the back-to-school list.
Be sure before you buy that you check there are no food or allergen restrictions in the classroom. If you’re concerned about child hunger, you may also be able to pay on delinquent lunch accounts at your child’s school. Check with the office or the district for details.
Buy gift cards to office supply stores.
It’s sweet to gift your kid’s favorite teacher with a gift card to a coffee shop, but a gift card to an office supply store goes a lot farther. If it’s not a desk or a chair, chances are they bought it themselves — down to even maybe the bookshelves, definitely the lamps, the entire class library (book store gift cards marked explicitly for the class library, or better yet, actual books vetted by the teacher, are a great idea), paperweights, post-its (they use millions), staples, staplers, pens (they disappear constantly), dry erase markers, any and all decorations … the list goes on. Just go to your local office supply store. Pick up a gift certificate — it might let your kid’s teacher buy enough poster board for a class project.
Basically, teachers don’t want the finer things in life. Sure, they’re nice. Sure, they make life better. But their needs are so overwhelming — Time says most teachers spend at least $500, and 1 in 10 spend over $1,000. My husband is in the latter category, spread out over the course of the year. So are most of his colleagues. Look up their salaries and do the proportions. It’s sort of ridiculous. So lend them a helping hand — beyond the standard back-to-school list.
They won’t forget it. I promise.
This article was originally published on