An “Open Letter” to My Fellow Teaching Colleagues About School Supply Lists

One my favorite wedding stories to tell people is about our gift registry.

A little over 25 years ago, my partner and I argued over whether or not we should create a gift registry. Some of your are already thinking, “duh”. Bear in mind that 25 years ago, this idea was still pretty new. He didn’t like the idea of “telling” people what to get us. I told him that we weren’t doing that; we were helping them with what we need because we were young – fresh out of college and a lot of our invited friends were the same. They had no idea what they should get us. Laundry detergent! Chips! Toilet paper! I mean, yeah, but when you’re 21/22, it’s sometimes difficult to fathom that we might need actual dishes, towels, and small appliances to live on our own, too, without a university all-you-can eat cafeteria on hand.

Plus, I added, it’s not like we have to specify certain brands of things we needed. We need a mixer, but it doesn’t have to be Cuisinart or Kitchen Aid. It can be whatever is on the cheap from K-Mart or Target.

He thought it over, and nodded. “Yeah, okay. That makes sense.”

As soon as the magic scanning gun was in his hands, however, everything changed. THIS, he exclaimed, scanning in the $200 set of salt and pepper shakers that weighed five pounds each. They’re solid and a great color. WE NEED THEM. And this $600 blender. And these $80 placemats. And this $300 eight-slice Krups toaster.


We had to pause and I said, “remember what we just talked about?”

He laughed. “Yeah.”

This story makes me think of the school supply list problem that creeps up every year. My social media timelines get filled with pleas for compassion for teachers and school supplies vs frustrated parents whose blood pressure skyrockets as they try to find All The Items.

Look,  I LOVE school and office supplies. A lot. I love brand new, Papermate brand wooden pencils with their soft #2 lead, Pilot brand pens, Sharpies, brightly colored 3M Post-It brand sticky notes, and Mead college-ruled notebooks.

Yes, I prefer Papermate brand pencils over Ticonderogas. I like Sharpie brand permanent markers over any other.

But let’s be honest. Are those brands going to help me teach any better than the other random brands? I sure hope not.

As a kid, I loved when school supply lists came out because it was fun to not only get all the fresh items, but I kind of dug the scavenger hunt nature of it all, too.

As a parent, I came to dread the lists.

I GET that schools don’t/can’t supply all this stuff for students. And I GET IT that in many schools, they have budgets for nothing like this at all, even for teacher supplies and so those teachers are relying on parents to help provide these things.


I have taught in many different schools and districts and have 3 kiddos of my own who have been going through the system and it is like we’ve given the gift registry scanner wand to some of these schools.

CRAYOLA only brand crayons or markers

FISKARS scissors

ELMER’S glue (and not just any kind of Elmer’s, but the DISAPPEARING PURPLE kind)

A gajillion notebooks – one lavendar, one ecru, one cyan, one midnight blue, one eggshell…

+ 20 more line items

You guys. No. Just, stop.

Some of you think I’m exaggerating with what I listed above. And while I made up the fancy colors, I just looked at this year’s supply lists for my kids’ former elementary school and seriously, one grade level literally had a name brand specified for every item. Another grade level had 22 line items. This is a Title I school, y’all.

They’ve gone off the rails.

I recognize that having color-coded notebooks and folders is useful, but when I have to go to three different stores in order to fulfill that request, my smile and love for school and office supplies disappears. Especially when I get to child #3, knowing that over 50% of those notebooks and folders will not even be used.

Youngest Child’s middle school parent organization offers the EduKit, which has all the stuff in a single order delivered to your home. Easy, right?

Except, $99.

*pulls out hair*

We are a middle class family. We can afford $99 (x 3). We can even afford the time to go to different stores to get everything if we have to. We can get all the preferred name brands.

But what about the lower-income families? I don’t care how nicely you word it on the list (ie: “preferred”), if Crayola is specified at all, families are going to feel like that’s what they must get or if they don’t (because Crayola is way more expensive than the generic alternatives), kids know it. They may not complain, but they know.

What about the lower-income families or single-parent families who just don’t have the time to find all of these specific items (or the money to dump into the pre-fab kits)?

What about the non-English speaking families who are barely navigating getting their students enrolled and catching the right bus let alone the full sheet, single-spaced list of supplies that is offered in English and Spanish (which is great), but not Hmong? I mean, what does it even mean to get “classic” colors for markers?

As an educator myself, I have fallen under the spell of wanting my students to have certain things. And I have also learned that kids not having dividers for their binders isn’t a learning stoppage.

Sometimes, when I read one of those articles that chastises parents for complaining about the supply lists, I think maybe, just maybe, that parent is someone who is low on sleep, low on energy, low on funds, or just low on emotional resources to handle One More Thing. They know school’s important. They are doing their best.

Maybe we can help them out?

Review our lists. Laugh. Adjust. We’ll do better.

Kudos to this list from a Minneapolis school for keeping the lists short… and for organizing it so that for parents who can do more will find the section on how they can give a little extra.

If you have great examples from schools of pared down, manageable lists, show us in the comments!

 And, because yes, school supplies ARE still fun, here’s a little throwback Principal Gerry Brooks video for you on the must-have smarkers:


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3 Responses to An “Open Letter” to My Fellow Teaching Colleagues About School Supply Lists

  1. Andy Rundquist says:

    Hey, those salt and pepper shakers were awesome!

    I wonder how young students could be so that a sheet that says “ways to organize your work for 6 different subjects” would be enough?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Kathy Rundquist says:

    Loved this post. Brought back huge memories from trying to find some of this stuff in Germany when the PX had been overrun.


  3. mrcarhart says:

    Boo… post didn’t go through! Love all of this….


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