CHICAGO — Contact paper. Plastic boxes for crayons. Damage-free picture hangers ...
If you're a teacher, this list looks very familiar.
Poster frames. Dry-erase markers. Blank self-adhesive labels ...
These are the kinds of items that don't always make it onto the standard school-supply lists, but we buy them at the start of the school year so that the students streaming into our classrooms for the first day of school can feel welcome and at home. Safe.
Fluffy pillows. Comfy blankets. A few extra granola bars or pretzels for the extra hungry ...
For some students, school is the only place that will offer two meals each weekday and the support of adults who are able to meet their academic and emotional needs with predictable routines. Other students simply need a place where they can let their intellects loose with the guidance of teachers who are ready to challenge them and allow them to struggle productively.
And that takes love, time, energy — and money.
In fact, it takes an average of $459 a year, according to the Economic Policy Institute, which took the National Center for Educational Statistics' 2011-2012 Schools and Staffing Survey and adjusted for inflation to 2018 dollars.
This is money we're not reimbursed for. Usually it doesn't even take into account money from our own pockets for candy rewards, small toy incentives and special favors like special pencils, erasers or markers.
This year I'll be teaching mostly Latino fourth-grade students, and I don't know what their needs will be.
Teachers never know.
For the most part, classrooms are a mix of students who find school easy, who get along just fine or simply don't need any extra help — and those who come to school carrying an awful load of emotional or mental baggage that they're not able to articulate on the first day.
The best educators seek to not make such distinctions — they aim to treat each student as an individual learner and not as the representative of a whole demographic whose income level, immigration status or family history will determine how well they'll perform.
Large zip-top bags. Plastic crates. Electric pencil sharpener ...
This year, I went "back to school" on Aug. 1, with full days of professional development to learn how to better teach reading and math. I also learned how to reach kids who might seem to not care but may actually just be hungry or sad.
Most disheartening was that we were taught that our doors must be closed and locked at all times while we're teaching, in case of armed intruders.
This growing climate of fear nationwide makes the list of back-to-school "must-haves" for teachers both free and quite precious: Empathy. Hope. And a whole lot of courage.
Esther Cepeda's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.