By Alyssa Hadley Dunn
Assistant Professor, Urban Teacher Education at Michigan State University
By Katie Plemmons
9th grade teacher
Around the country, a new school year has just begun and students (and their parents and guardians) have been given extensive supply lists, with everything from pencils and binders to hand sanitizer and paper towels. Teachers have also been spending inordinate amounts of money out-of-pocket in order to make their classrooms inviting spaces and to purchase class sets of supplies. But there are still many things needed to make this year successful for public educators. Thus, our list below offers suggestions for what “supplies” (both literal and figurative) administrators and policymakers can provide for their teachers this year.
Dear Policymakers and Administrators,
Here is your back-to-school “supply” list for this academic year. Some of the supplies listed are for students, some are for teachers, and some are for you, so that you can better understand what teachers need and do.
We’ll start with the “easy” supplies first — the literal ones.
- Enough textbooks for every student (that are up-to-date, in good condition, and reflect a wide range of diverse content)
- Enough desks for every student
- Notebooks (for our students who cannot afford them and for you to write down our stories so our voices might actually be able to be heard in your policymaking decisions)
- Pre-sharpened pencils (seriously, after sharpening a 72-pack, we end up with blisters)
- Pencil sharpeners that (1) actually work and (2) will continue to work for the entirety of the year
- A multi-colored pack of dry erase markers (because sometimes bright colors help brighten our days)
- Class sets of crayons and markers (which will be much more useful if you can restore art to our schools)
- Working copiers and printers and paper (and the freedom to make copies without having a paper or toner quota)
- At least one computer per classroom and a computer lab that has enough computers for each student in our classes and that is available when we need it (not occupied for online state testing requirements)
- Tape and glue sticks (which can help with putting back together what neoliberalreforms have managed to destroy in public education)
- 50 boxes of tissues (because once cold season hits, we probably go through a box a day)
- Calculator (It doesn’t need to be a fancy one, just one that has enough functions to determine a fair pay for teachers that also includes stable benefits)
Those are all fairly easy to accomplish, right? Now comes the more challenging list of things that teachers need this year, the intangibles that will help to maintain their professionalism, commitment, passion, creativity, and integrity.
- Class assignments that we are actually qualified and prepared to teach
- Enough advance notice of our course schedule to adequately prepare for the first two weeks of school (at least!)
- Professional development that is engaging, relevant, and contextualized to our local needs and questions
- Announcements of policies before school starts, rather than having new rules implemented on the eighth, eighteenth, or eightieth day
- Class sizes that are reasonable, teachable, good for individualized and personal instruction (and, lest we forget, legal)
- Time to plan with their grade-level, content-area, or co-teaching team, both prior to the first day of school and during the school year
- An evaluation system that is fair, meaningful, constructive, and timely enough to be helpful, and the recognition that not everything that counts can be counted.
- Freedom from scripted curricula that fails to recognize not only their talents as educators but that ignores their students’ individual needs and funds of knowledge
- And, while we’re at it — a curriculum that is critical, culturally sustaining, anddiverse — not that is based solely on a standardized test
- Your trust in our ability to discuss important and sensitive topics like racism, sexism, and homophobia — and your understanding that these issues are deeply connected to teaching and learning, not something “extra” or “irrelevant”
- A school discipline plan that supports teachers, but not one of zero tolerance that contributes to the school-to-prison pipeline, especially for students of color
- Administrators who are approachable, who listen, and who respond to questions, concerns, and requests in a timely manner
- Job security, also known as the right to due process in case of termination, also known (in some states) as tenure
- Respect for the profession and for the institution of public education, to which teachers are deeply committed
While some of these things can be purchased at the nearest office supply store, others will not stretch the budget as much as they might stretch your (and others’) ideas of equitable, quality, and meaningful learning. Teachers around the country would love to start a new school year with these “supplies” in their classrooms and these ideas in your hearts and minds.