As we’re kicking off another exciting year of education, I’m making my annual trip to the store to resupply our classroom. And each year, I reflect on what I could buy to make my space a little more equitable for all — whether that be small things we’re unable to get at home, or just little things that make my space slightly more human-centered.
I haven’t always purchased these things, but I plan on it as I reflect on doing better. And I couldn’t find an existing list that focused more on utility than decoration. Admittedly, as I was creating this list, I was challenged by including supplies I felt were “weird” or “out of place”, yet when I looked at the statistics of what our children need, everything seemed necessary.
I recognize the struggles around teacher pay, supplying our own classrooms, and the undeserving place teachers find themselves in, and I completely agree that these purchases aren’t possible for all. I would not be able to furnish my classroom in this way even a few years ago. In the wake of “#clearthelist” and DonorsChoose, it’s continually depressing that we feel obligated to make these purchases. That being said, if it is possible, this list can be a starting point. In our grand scheme, we should be organizing, having discussions, and demanding action of the school district to supplement all of this. Further, check regional non-profits such as Crayons to Computers for assistance in your own purchasing.
*All of the following are Amazon links. Amazon isn’t the perfect (or really even an objectively good) retailer, but is by-far the cheapest in most scenarios. Participating in an anti-human capitalist system is not an endorsement of its practices.
No School Hungry reports that 74% of educators have a student who comes to school hungry, which has serious ramifications on their academic performance, but more importantly is just not a situation we should want for any person. Having healthy food in an inconspicuous, yet accessible location for those that need it is important to serving our youth. (Further, No School Hungry supplies after school lunches through a federal program.) The following are supplies that are intentionally nonperishable.
*Many of these include potential allergies. Be sure to collect and check information before hand.
*It may seem unneeded to have breakfast and lunches on hand for students, as free and reduced lunch exists. However, in a world where lunch debts are piling on (and businesses/organizations are opting to pay the bills.), and where many students are not “labelled” or refuse to eat the poor state of served food, it may be necessary. Again, organizing to solve these problems is a better, systemic change. (See this excellent TEDx Talk by Jeffery Lew.)
Not all of these are imperative, but they will make your classroom a more welcoming place where students can turn to for assistance.
Simple imagery — such as a sticker on a laptop or desk, or small poster, can let students know that you’re supportive and caring, and acknowledge them in the room.
Structure is not to be confused with strict or mundane. People want structure — a similar protocol to follow whenever they want or need something, but they don’t want to be regimented or commanded. Classroom rules (which can be developed as a community) can be displayed and reminded from time to time through a community circle. Further, common structures may include a schedule written on the board, light music while learning, a lack of over-the-top surprises, and a normal speaking tone/volume.
While adding decorations can make a room look nice, overdoing it has negative ramifications — especially for students who become easily overstimulated. Simple decorations in one space of the room, or if possible, sustainable plants and natural lighting, can make a home-like environment without a punishing array of motivational quotes and imagery. Further, installing softening fixtures to filter fluorescent ceiling lights can help as well (see Cozy Shades Light Filters (Pack of 3) $35.42.) Student work can be placed in a small, non-taxing area as well.
Restricting or punishing students for not having supplies tends to get in the way of learning more than it “teaches responsibility.” More often than not, students who attend my class without supplies struggle with obtaining them — and many need much more than just basic classroom supplies.
Instead of demeaning, we need to make connections through our work, become friends and coaches in addition to academics, and navigate students and families toward additional assistance outside of school — whether that be a lack of resources, discrimination, or mental health assistance (e.g. The Trevor Project’s helpline, Children’s Hunger Alliance, Child Mind Institute.)
Because all these purchases are centered on substance, not just aesthetics, try reaching out to administration to see if these purchases can be made. Even in districts where funding is tightly regulated, you may be surprised on what administration simply doesn’t know. When you expose them to these facts, statistics, and purchases (and their relatively low costs), they may supply it — and in turn, this may lead to major changes throughout the building.