Dear Parents, How to Bring Less Insanity to Your Kid’s Class


Dear Parents,

Depending on where you live and what kind of schedule is involved (traditional versus year-round), your child may be going back to school anywhere from now to after Labor Day. Every school year the same questions, suggestions, or concerns seem to turn up in various advice-seeking areas.

I used to be a teacher at the high school level, and I’m a parent of one fourth grader and one seventh grader, so I’ve existed on both sides of the parent/teacher line and can often give insights into why certain policies are in place. I will admit, I don’t always agree with all of the decisions being made, but I also know that sometimes there are factors that take the choice out of teacher and administrator’s hands (like district policies, state policies, education laws, and, frequently, funding issues). So keeping that in mind, I’d like to give all of you some answers to topics I see come up a lot.

First off, many of these procedures or rules are set up because a class day is designed to keep a group of at least 25 kids doing scheduled activities at certain points because about 90% of a teacher’s day is doing the equivalent of herding cats. Most families have 2-3 kids on average. I want you to think about your morning out-the-door routine for your family. If it’s smooth, it’s because everyone knows what they need to do when and actually does it. If there’s no routine, it’s likely pure chaos. Some of you may be in-between where you have a routine but you’re having to redirect people back to it to avoid chaos. The more people in your family, the more important that routine and people sticking to it are. Now just remember that teachers have at least 25 kids needing to be on a routine in order to get anything done, and one or two kids going dramatically off-task can throw the whole thing into chaos. 

The first thing that you might notice policy-wise if you have younger kids is that teachers request that kids can put on their own clothing. This means if your kid’s shoes have laces or their jacket has buttons or their pants have snaps or they have overalls on, they need to be able to handle tying their shoes, taking their jackets on and off, or managing their overall straps or pant snaps in the bathroom. Teachers do not have the time to help every kid with clothing, and in cases like snaps on pants, they do not want to risk being accused by any kid of inappropriate touching behavior. Kids with certain special needs are an exception that will have documentation, of course. For everyone else, please send your kids to school in stuff they can manage.

Kids also need to be able to open their own lunchbox items. Staff members are too busy keeping their eye on things like a kid potentially choking on food or throwing tater tots at each other to have time to open up items in every kid’s lunch. If they make an exception for one kid, they need to make it for all. Unless there is a very solid and documented reason, your kid needs to be able to open their own bags and containers. Most schools also cannot accommodate food that needs to be microwaved due to time constraints and microwave availability, so adjust lunches accordingly. 

Now onto one of the biggest ones that I have seen cause the most upsets: school supplies. I have seen some very strong opinions about class supply lists and the practice of communal supplies on various forums and advice articles. My fourth grader is now old enough that his supplies are just for him and he has a desk to keep them at, but in his younger years, there were a lot more communal supplies. There seem to be a few reasons for this at younger levels in particular:

  1. Easier to cover for kids who can’t afford supplies.
  2. Younger grades have tables instead of desks, so there’s no real place for individual items.
  3. Younger kids are often rougher on certain supplies.
  4. Younger kids tend to be more likely to lose track of things.

For the sanity of your kid’s teacher, if the class list notes these are communal supplies, do not buy special stuff and put your kid’s name all over it and ask the teacher to make sure your kid gets their special set. If they do it for one kid, they have to do it for all, and they do not have the time for that (or the space resources to assign each kid their own special set of things). In the grand scheme of things, this really is not the battle worth picking.

To explain the why of this I will start with pencils, glue sticks, markers, and crayons. Young kids are rough on glue sticks and not the best at recapping them all the way, which is why younger grades ask for so many. Markers suffer a similar no-cap fate (both the art and dry-erase variety). Crayons get broken a lot. Pencils will be eaten in the sharpener to get that perfect point at an alarming rate. All go missing so much easier. The older the kids get, the item number for these goes down because as a group they get better at taking care of them.

A teacher also needs to know a kid can quickly grab a pencil from the community pile and be ready to go, and whatever you do, don’t send the cute decorated ones to school. As adults, we’re just happy to find a working writing instrument when we need it. Every class has at least one kid who will absolutely lose it if they were not the one to get the glitter pencil or the basketball pencil or whatever.

These kids will look an adult dead in the eye and not only inform you that this is the battle they are choosing but that they absolutely will back it up by taking the entire math lesson down with them just to see if they won’t. A community pile also means a kid is more likely to find a red marker instead of screaming they can’t find their red marker.

I understand the reason teachers often ask to stick to certain sizes of colored pencils and crayon packs is that the color names are more universal between brands for those size counts. Once a kid gets a box with 100+ colors and you ask for an orange crayon, that kid can suddenly get overwhelmed with too many variations and a constant stream of “Is tangerine okay? What about melon? Is this more orange or red?” can derail a lesson, especially when it’s more than one kid.

Folders are a similar dilemma. Kids often want their super cool individual folders, but folders are often color coded for subjects to keep easier track of them (or in higher grades colors might represent class periods). Let your kid have the cool folder at home because, honestly, managing 25 kids is challenging enough without being sabotaged. Think back to a family member who blew off how you do something (which was set up for your sanity) and just derails your routine while you watch in frustration as the chaos descends. Have some compassion, please.

Now if you’ve gotten to the end of this list and think that teachers have so much stress that you should send a bottle of wine or some other alcoholic beverage to them, I’m going to have to stop you right there. The kind intention is there and I know teachers who wouldn’t mind being gifted with such, but there are a few reasons why I’m going to say don’t do it:

  1. A teacher might not drink due to medical reasons.
  2. A teacher might not drink for personal reasons (think religion, sobriety, etc.).
  3.  Even if said teacher appreciates the occasional alcoholic beverage, schools tend to have very strict policies about alcohol not being allowed on campus. You could get them in serious trouble for having a gift bottle on campus—let’s not add in if the kid presents it to them and was thus in possession of it—and when it comes to older grades, I don’t want to think about the insanity that would go down if a teenager stole a gift bottle of something like wine at school and then students consumed it on campus. 

So, please, try to make the year a little less insane for everyone involved. If you want to send something nice for the teacher, think Amazon or Target gift cards where they can grab something they need for their room or something for themselves that won’t cause a scandal in the admin office. 

Have a great year,

Elizabeth (the mom who is now down to buying two crayon boxes and significantly fewer glue sticks this year)

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