Last night, a family friend asked me about what we teachers ask students to purchase for going back to school. He had heard a radio story about people being asked to bring in rolls of toilet paper, paper towels, hand sanitizer and other non-educational items. Can I just say that this is ridiculous?
Now, I may have a different perspective because I teach high school and my only requirements are that each student covers his or her book, has a notebook of his or her choice, and brings some sort of writing utensil. I’m easy to please. If kids want highlighters, colored pencils, a fancy trapper keeper (do they still make those?) or a TI-86 calculator, good for them. But those aren’t REQUIRED items in my classroom.
As an environmental educator and an environmentalist, I encourage kids to skip purchasing new items and use the ones they have at home that are perfectly good. At the end of each year when kids clean out their lockers, I inevitably see them throwing out binders, notebooks, folders, etc. I spend much of my time standing by the trash, asking them if they’d like to donate it to my classroom instead. I’d much prefer that they’d save it for next year, and I’m sure their parents would like that, but teenagers don’t always think cost-effectively. Fast-forward to the next school year and I offer students my “salvaged” binders on the first day, first-come-first-served, and explain that they’re reusing, an important part of Reduce-Reuse-Recycle. Since I was on maternity leave at the end of last year, I have no binders to give away this year. But I’ll encourage kids to check out what they have at home before buying new.
Some ideas: Do you have any idea how many partially used spiral notebooks there are? You probably have many in your house. Why not cut out the paper and put it in a binder instead of buying new? Or simply rip out the used pages and you have a brand new notebook! Why not use scrap paper or junk mail instead of buying post-it notes or pads? Do you really need to buy new pens, pencils, crayons, rulers, calculators? Why not shop around at home before heading out to the store? It’ll save you some money and reduce your impact on the planet.
Finally, when it comes to buying toilet paper, paper towels and hand sanitizer (my school doesn’t do this), I think it’s crazy, but I can understand wanting to use as much of the budget for education as possible. However, as a taxpayer, I don’t want to have to go out and buy these things that the school should provide. It would make much more sense for the school to buy these items in bulk, and thereby save money, packaging and a lot of aggravated parents. If your child’s school is asking for these items, I’d encourage you to contact the teacher, principal, superintendent or Board of Education. It just makes no sense for children to bring these items to school. (It reminds me of a story my grandfather told about being required to bring wood for the wood stove to his one-room school house, and that the kids who brought the most wood got to sit closest to the fire.) Maybe you can explain that your family chooses to use cloth wipes instead of toilet paper? That would be a fun way to introduce yourself to the new teacher!
Do you have any tips for going back to school without being a mega-consumer?