Since we're a pencil shop, back-to-school season is always a big time of year for us. When I was a kid it was easy--the list was pretty much the same every year and was printed out and posted outside the school. We got to write our names on everything and keep it all for ourselves, in our own Spacemakers. These days it seems to be a little more complicated, as so many classrooms has really specific requests or pool all of the supplies for use by the whole class. It's been many many years since I had to shop for school supplies for myself and I don't have kids of my own so doing the buying for this time of year can be a bit tricky and requires a lot of product testing, research and talking to parents and teachers. This year I thought I'd consult my cousin Brett, who is a 3rd grade teacher in Indiana. He kindly answered a few questions for be to get to the bottom of what elementary school teachers actually need for their classrooms:
What's your favorite part of the start of a new school year?
My favorite part of a new school year is probably just the excitement. Everybody comes back from summer break recharged and ready to get started. Students usually are wide-eyed and excited with everything being new for them. Each new school year also brings a unique classroom community. You never know what the vibe of a class is going to be until everyone is together and interacting. I love getting to know my new students and how their personalities will interact with one another and myself.
How does your school do school supply lists?
Our school lets each grade level come up with our own supply list. This is great because we get to tailor it to exactly what we know our students will need in our individual classrooms. The stressful part is putting together a list that will have everything we need at a price that all the parents will be able to afford.
Personally, what's your favorite school supply?
My favorite school supply has always been the different unique kinds of big erasers. When I was in 5th grade I got an eraser that looked like a $50 bill with president Ulysses Grant on it. I thought it was really cool because I was really into learning about the presidents at the time and he was a more obscure president that I read a lot about. Ever since then I have looked for unique or quality big erasers.
Is there something that you wish you could ask for to have in your classroom?
If there was one specific thing I wish I could ask for it would probably be a Smartboard or Document camera that would allow me to project something from a paper onto the big screen. Many suburban schools have implemented these in classrooms but many rural and inner-city schools do not have the funds for them. I always wish I had more money to buy new books for my classroom library as well. I am always on the lookout for second hand books which are great, but there is just something about having a brand new book with a shiny cover that students gravitate towards.
What kind of issues do you have with pencils in your classroom?
3rd grade boys love to mess with the eraser on a new pencil until it falls off. Of course afterwards they immediately regret their decision and are asking everyone else for an eraser. Students also like to get the cheap pencils that are bright or have designs on them. This is fine, but these typically will gum up sharpeners because of the paper casing around them and they break a lot easier. We try to find as many of the classic Ticonderogas as possible for this reason. As a teacher I'm not a big fan of mechanical pencils because of the constant breaking and refilling of lead.
What's the one supply that you always need more of?
With our midwest winters flu season always hits us hard so we go through Kleenex and Clorox wipes really fast. We also always in need of quality Expo dry erase markers. They are a very basic but vital tool that we use in a variety of ways for formative assessment each day. Expo are really the only brand that last a long time without drying out but they tend to be more expensive.
If a parent wants to donate supplies to your classroom, what are the things on the top of your list?
Expo markers are definitely on the top of the list. Any used books are also greatly appreciated because you never know what may be the story that sparks a child's interest in reading.
What's your favorite memory of the first day of school?
My own favorite memory of the first day of school would probably be in my own third grade classroom. I had a teacher who gave us a chance to tell one another about ourselves personally and what we enjoyed about school. I shared about my favorite books to read and how I wanted to write my own series of stories that school year which I ended up doing every day during our writing time.