So with school starting up again…

August 14, 2010, 9:18 PM

School in Augusta County starts up again this Tuesday, August 17. I think that’s a bit early, but there you go, I suppose. I thought it was neat when one year, they started on a Wednesday. That seems to make a quick first week that still has time to cover all the bases. Day one, you welcome everyone and visit all your classes to see what the teachers’ expectations will be and to get your textbooks. Then day two, you have the big assemblies so that the administrators can explain their own expectations. Then on day three, you have a fire drill (Virginia law mandates a fire drill once per week during the first month of school).

Meanwhile, I decided to take a look at a few school-related things just for the fun of it. One of the things I looked at was supply lists. I went to the Rogers Public Schools Web site, because I’ve always found some of their supply lists amusing. Specifically, I found the supply list for Grimes Elementary, which is where I went to school. And we find out that the tradition continues. For more than twenty years, Grimes has been emphatic: NO TRAPPER KEEPERS. Does anyone even use Trapper Keepers anymore? Now there’s another device that Grimes hates: wheeled backpacks. I would consider wheeled backpacks to be a good thing, as it brings heavy loads to the ground and on wheels, where they probably should be. Maybe Grimes has a deal with a local chiropractor, where they load the kids down with heavy stuff, make them carry them on their backs, and then get a kickback for every Grimes student’s back that the chiropractor cracks. Who knows.

Then you have the oddball you-will-never-use-this stuff in the supply lists. First grade requires students to supply three 12-packs of #2 pencils – that’s 36 pencils. Will students really go through a pencil a week? Then you have the school box required to hold this massive cache of pencils. Then second grade prohibits use of said school box. Well, there goes that, I suppose. Third grade requires two pocket folders – one red, and one green. So what would happen if I were to come in with a blue one and a yellow one? What if I like those colors better? I’ll bet that if Mrs. Lois Jordan (pronounced “Jerdan”), my old third grade teacher, were still there, she would have said that they were “not appropriate” (“inappropriate” is apparently one of educators’ favorite blanket I-don’t-like-it terms). Oh, and third grade lists the school box again – the same one that first grade listed and that second grade prohibited. Where’s the consistency here, folks? Then fourth grade requires a ruler, which you will probably not use until April, by which time it has been either (A) lost, (B) damaged beyond repair, or (C) taken away by the teacher because you were caught playing with it. Then fourth grade also requires all the boys to bring a bottle of hand sanitizer, and for the girls to bring disinfectant wipes. What kind of germaphobe came up with that? I would think that a bottle of (triclosan-free) liquid soap would be far more beneficial. All the classrooms at Grimes have sinks in them, and so it stands to argue that they should use them. Then fifth grade requires a package of red pens. I’d dare say that you will (A) not even use up a quarter of one pen, and (B) not be allowed to use it except in very specific situations. After all, the red pen is primarily teachers’ territory. Of course, the red pen should generally go away overall. Red pens are somewhat confrontational. If you want a color to grade with, use green. It’s far less confrontational.

Then let’s dissect a grade’s supply list for a moment. Let’s just take a whole supply list and line-item it. Here’s what you probably really need and don’t need. I chose fourth grade.



  • Ruler with inches AND centimeters (you will use this once, if ever)
  • 1 Pkg. Erasers (be wary of any time a teacher requests an entire package of something – I think for this one, I’d send the kid with an eraser, and then one that I scrounged up around the house)
  • 24 Each #2 Pencils (you probably don’t need this many)
  • Scissors
  • 4 Glue Sticks (you will barely make a dent on one of these all year, and you will use it once, in December)
  • 1 Box Crayons, Markers, or Colored Pencils (go for the markers!)
  • 4 Pkgs. Notebook Paper (seems a tad excessive – save a tree and only buy what you need as you go)
  • 1 Pkg. Red Marking Pens (I guarantee you will only go through part of one of these – and get a green pen)
  • 4 Pocket Folders WITH Prongs, 1 each of red, yellow, blue and green (I’d get orange, purple, black, and one with the Power Rangers on it, just to make a point that the color of the folder doesn’t matter, but rather that it’s a naked power grab)
  • 6 Spiral Notebooks, 70 pages each (yellow, red or blue) (you will never use six, but rather maybe two or three, and I’d get those in purple, green, and one with Transformers on it just to make the aforementioned point)
  • Highlighters, 1 each pink, yellow and green (trust me, you will never use these)
  • 2 Large Dry Erase Markers (considering how long dry erase markers last and how much they cost, this is wasteful to have to buy two big ones per kid, especially if, as I suspect, it’s just to give the teacher a stash of markers for their board, which, as office supplies, the school should supply for teacher use)
  • 1 Fine Tip, Black Dry Erase Marker (wasteful again)
  • 2 Large Boxes of Kleenex (if I’m buying a big box, I’d save a few bucks and just buy one for the communal classroom stash – no need to have 60 boxes of tissues)
  • BOYS-1 Box sandwich size zipper storage bags AND 1 Bottle hand sanitizer (sending a bottle of triclosan-free soap instead, and I would send the teacher a note asking about the purpose and use of 4,500 plastic sandwich bags – assuming a box of sandwich bags has 300 bags in it times 15 male students. I’ll bet that one can be skipped entirely)
  • GIRLS-1 Box Large size zipper storage bags AND 1 Box disinfectant Wipes (same on both counts – triclosan-free soap and a note)

And that, boys and girls, is the real school supply list. Money, and school supplies, don’t grow on trees. And we can see through these naked power grabs. And challenging these naked power grabs is what earned me a grade of “Unsatisfactory” from my fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Sharon Bradley, for Study Skills in the first quarter, with the notation “Openly challenges teacher” written next to it. Yes, in my old elementary school, politely challenging an idea from an authority figure is “inappropriate”, and will earn you a lecture from Mrs. Carmical (principal).

Then of course, I remember when I was in fourth grade, the school supply list asked for a large binder. We bought one (it was purple) and I actually used it. And my love affair with three-ring binders began. The spiral notebook was dead in my mind as soon as I laid my eyes on the three-ring binder. However, the school may have asked for it, but they really didn’t think kids would use it. I was the only one who actually used it. I kept everything in that binder. And my binder ended up being a point of contention with the teacher, with the teacher taking away my binder at one point, and then returning it to my parents come conference time with the insistence that it not be brought back to school. The school guidance counselor later told me that if I ever brought the binder back to school, that I would lose ownership of the binder. I’m sure that they would have just loved it if I had brought that binder back, because I’m sure that Mrs. Patti Maidt (the teacher) or Mrs. Shirley Burns (the guidance counselor) already had big plans for it for themselves if they saw it again. Personally, I don’t care how much school staff hates an item. If you take an item away from a student permanently, it is theft. Oh, if only my parents would have let me call that bluff on them. If I saw my purple binder on someone’s shelf, I would be quick to reclaim it, too.

Meanwhile, have you ever been to a school’s Web site? Most school sites that I’ve been to appear to have templates that have been professionally designed, and then those templates are filled by people with next to no experience or training on doing a Web site. I’ve noticed that most of them, if the teacher even bothers to maintain them, don’t have a clear intended audience. Are they designed with the students as the intended audience? Or are they for the parents? Or are they more the teacher’s personal Web site, and actual school-related stuff is an added bonus? Most are a bit of a mixture of all three, and it kind of looks messy and/or cheesy. Some teachers’ pages (like this one) look very much like, “I’ve done this, and now I don’t have to update this again until next year,” without realizing that the Web site is a place for ongoing communication. Really, the Web site should be aimed at the parents. After all, the student sees the teacher every day. The parents don’t necessarily visit with the teacher all the time, and so this is a great way to keep the communication open with parents about what’s going on. I would imagine that an ideal teacher Web site would contain the syllabus, a list of assignments as they are given, topics covered with dates, and contact information. One of the problems, though, is that even with expectations of running a great site, the updates so often end in October. But such is life, I suppose.

Meanwhile, it is a sad truth that perfect attendance is highly overrated. If I were to do it again, I certainly would have missed a few days here and there. As an adult looking back, I realize that it’s okay to miss an occasional day, as long as it’s not excessive. I certainly would have missed that Saturday make-up day we had back in 1994, for one thing. That day was a complete waste of time. But for a few times when I went to school obviously sick, I would have been better off staying at home and watching The Price is Right. After all, watching Bob Barker do his thing was one of the fun parts of having days off of school. Plus taking a rest day for being sick helps you recover faster, and keeps the other kids from catching whatever you have (just make sure you sneeze on the kids you don’t like before you go, though – I’m sure they’ll enjoy whatever you’ve got even more than you do).

So there you go. This is also probably why, if I ever have children, their teachers will hate me. I’ll end up making them justify all the supplies and keep their Web site up to date. And say it all with a smile.

Web site: What not to bring on the first day of school

Song: Meanwhile, every student should be required to take at least one Home Econonics (pardon - "Family and Consumer Sciences") class before graduating high school. I took two in high school, and they taught me some valuable domestic skills that I have been able to use as an adult. After all, I can cook, sew, shop frugally (my mother calls me cheap), and clean. Everyone, not just the women, should take Home Economics, because you have to be able to live on your own one day and take care of yourself, because when you grow up and move out of the house, your mother will not be living there to take care of you.

Quote: Meanwhile, I was delighted to see this article about a teacher getting booked for assault and cruelty to children for striking students. It's unfortunate that the incident happened, but it's good that Fairfax County is treating it for what it is - assault. I remember one time at Grimes when the principal, Mrs. Judith Carmical, held up her paddle and threatened me with it. "Do you want me to use this on you?" Scared the crap out of me at age nine. That's why I'm glad that the story about the Fairfax County teacher made the news. Violence, no matter who it is directed towards, is wrong. You administer corporal punishment to a child, it is assault. Generally speaking, one should never administer a punishment to a child that you wouldn't give yourself. I'd dare say that taking away a child's Wi-Fi adapter for a while would drive home a point more than beating the crap out of them. Seriously, as a child, taking away my computer was far more effective than any spanking would ever be...