Gretchen L. Kelly, Author

Hey School, We Need To Talk

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Ahhhh, that new school smell. It’s the smell of fresh starts, new beginnings and a few precious hours a day without someone needing something from us.

Don’t get me wrong. I love summer and having my three kids home with me. But in some ways I feel like I’ve been on a three month bender and now I’ve sobered up. My house looks like Miley Cyrus and Lindsey Lohan invited John Belushi over to party. My head feels foggy and I feel a little disoriented. I’m ready to shake off the fog and get back to a routine, back to being productive.

Hahahahaha. That’s funny isn’t it? The idea that school starts and we have all this time to do… whatever it is we all need to/want to/have to do. We fool ourselves every summer into thinking that life will feel normal again once school starts.

It’s funny/not funny because we forget that school can be a demanding and manipulative time suck.

School’s going to start emailing you. And robo-calling you. And sending letters home with your kids. They will ask you for things. Request your presence. They will teach your kids how to lay a guilt trip on you that would make a Catholic school nun blush. They will be relentless. School’s going to start looking like that college boyfriend that needed a restraining order.

I think it’s time to have a little talk with school. I think we can resolve this peacefully. We just need to clear a few things up and come to some kind of understanding. There are a few things that can be tweaked to make all of our lives a little bit easier…

The School Supply Lists

The list. How can I say this nicely… the school supply list has become an uptight, entitled snob who suffers from O.C.D. Damn. I don’t think I did that right. OK. Let’s try this again. The list is an asshole.

It gets a little worse each year. From specific colors of folders to name brand pencils and erasers. Did you know that there are brand name erasers? Yeah, me neither. Hey school, if you’re that anal retentive about erasers, you may want to get some help for that. *gives elementary school the side eye*

The Fund Raisers

I get it. Budgets being cut and all. Schools need more funds. I’m totally down with that. I’ll write a check. But the fundraisers? Some of them really crawl under my skin.

Our school outsources fundraising to a corporation. Under the guise of “character development” and “health and fitness” this company sends teams of annoyingly perky “athletes” to your school to conduct pep rallies and “classes.” Part of the character education apparently involves pressuring kids with the lure of classroom ice cream parties and bribing them with cheap plastic toys. Meanwhile, the parents are supposed to let the kids hit up Grandma’s pension fund so that almost half of her donation can feed the pockets of this corporation. Nuh-uh. Not happening. When I tell my kids that no, we aren’t soliciting our loved ones, they look at me in horror. You would think I had just told them that Santa killed the Easter Bunny and ate his liver with a nice Chianti.

I’ll write a check. But it won’t be to the jackhole who tried to turn my kid into a multilevel marketer.

My Attendance Is Not Required

Why is it necessary to request my presence at least once a month for some “event.” I’m with my kids all the time. They don’t need me to come to school to cheerlead for them every time they do something not extraordinary. In fact, they’d be a lot better off if they didn’t see mommy popping up at school, waving and beaming from the crowd. They aren’t Beyonce and JayZ at the Grammy’s. They are kids. In school. It’s pretty ordinary. So let’s chill on the obligatory parent fan club, ok?

My mom never had to come up to school during the day. There was no “Helicopter Parenting.” We managed to eat lunch, even on our birthdays, without our parents showing up. We can celebrate birthdays at home and the kids can tell us about their day over the dinner table. I don’t have to actually see and witness every thing they do. There’s a reason we took a blunt nosed scissor to the umbilical chord.

The Neverending Requests

There’s so much stuff. There’s always little items to send in for events and parties and theme weeks. The calendar the teachers send home reads more like an errand list. What to wear, what to bring in. Is all this “stuff”really necessary for learning? I’m all for making a lesson fun. I just don’t think you need “stuff” in order to do that. And let’s chill on all the celebrations. Hey, school, maybe if we didn’t have a party every month you could bring back music class?

All of this is kind of a pain in the ass for all the parents. But do you want to know why it really gets me worked up?

All of this smacks of privilege.

This is beyond a first world problem. This is a problem of privilege.

These things aren’t an issue at schools in poor neighborhoods. Teachers at Title I schools aren’t holding parties and asking parents for “stuff.” They have to worry about tired kids falling asleep during class because their belly is empty or their home life is too stressful for a good night’s sleep. Requests for 100 pretzels for the 100th day? Sounds a little ridiculous doesn’t it?

And what about the kids that go to school in an affluent neighborhood but are on free or reduced lunch? How do you think they feel watching their classmates get applauded for raising money and rewarded because they have people in their lives who can donate? They have to sit through the sales pitches and the promises of rewards knowing that they can’t contribute. It makes me sick.

What about the parents who are busting their ass at work and can’t make it to the mid-day craft event in their kid’s classroom? Why should they have to try to juggle work and parenting in the middle of the school day?

Let’s Just Stop With All the Extras

For the teachers who just want to teach.

For the parents who have too much already on their plates.

For the kids who are always left feeling different because their parent can’t come to the event or their family can’t afford to buy extra items.

For the kids who are privileged. We aren’t doing them any favors by showing up and cheering them on for every little thing or by teaching them that a trip to the store is essential to learning. We aren’t helping any of the kids when the entitled continue to be coddled and applauded while the kids who have less continue to feel less than.

Let’s cut out all the B.S. and focus on the important things.

Let’s put the fundraising on the districts and the whole community, not the kids.

Let’s show the kids that they can be independent and thrive with their peers and their teachers. Show them that they don’t need mommy or daddy to make school a warm and nurturing environment.

I’ll send my kids to school ready to learn. You teach them. Simple as that.


47 Responses

  1. So much this!!! I can’t stand any of it. I quit the PTA after my son finished kindergarten. I volunteer minimally and never ever participate in anything related to crafts. And even with my lack of commitment, I’m still bombarded all the time. My daughter is in preK. That I pay for, and they’re already doing fundraisers. Last year, when I didn’t participate, another mom tried to make me feel guilty for it. I told her she will understand when her precious offspring starts public school. I friggin pay for preK. A ton. I’m not participating in the GD boosterthon. Nope. You pulled these words straight out of my brain.

    1. I volunteer minimally too. My kids used to pressure me to come have lunch with them. Is that a thing at your kids’ school? I think it is IN.SANE. I eat 90% of their meals with them, why would I go eat gross cafeteria food with them when they should be socializing with their friends? I’m the mean mommy that refuses. I tell them, “I eat dinner with you every night. You’ll survive lunch without Mommy.” And we wonder why we have Helicopter Parents and entitled kids who can’t handle college? Grrrr…. And that mom that made you feel guilty? I’ll “volunteer” to kick her ass for you. 🙂

      1. There’s a mom at our school who eats lunch with her kid at least three times a week. I only do when I’m guilted for weeks. But yes. It’s a thing. A stupid thing. My mom never came to my school. Ever. I rode the bus, so she didn’t even have to hit the parking lot. She had the right idea.

        1. I’m predicting that her kid will be the one calling Mommy during her Freshman Psych class because she got a C on a paper. (For real, this stuff happens.) I think we’re indirectly screwing our kids up when we show up for all this stuff! My husband goes to have lunch with the kids once in a while if he’s been traveling a lot or just getting back after a long trip. They even allow the parents and their kid to sit up on the stage in the cafeteria and eat up there, in front of everyone! WTF?

      2. As a SAHM, do you feel like they pressure you even more to always be there? I mean, my kid’s teacher is getting paid. Why do I need to come take care of her lunch duty? Or cut her stupid construction paper. Have the kids who act like assholes do that.

        1. YES! If we want to show teachers we appreciate them, let’s PAY THEM MORE! Instead of making big lunches for them once a month. I’m pretty sure the teachers would rather make a living wage and be paid what they’re worth than to eat a crockpot lasagna in the teacher’s lounge. And I’m dying over the cutting of the construction paper! When my middle kid was in Kindergarten I felt guilt over her being neglected because I’d just had a baby. So I signed up to do all these extras. The teacher sent home a pack of green paper and told me to cut out 50 palm trees. 50!!! Why is that important??? And for Thanksgiving she asked me to bring in a turkey. Not turkey slices on a platter, but a whole friggin’ roast turkey!!!! I did. A 20 pound turkey that I got up at the crack ass of dawn to roast and when I brought it in she just said “Put it over there” No thank you, nothing.

          1. I think we need to protest. Come up with one of those campaigns I’m constantly getting emails about. No more in school bullshit or something. I’m over it, and school hasn’t even started here. Rolling my eyes.

          2. Wow, no thank you? I would have waited until afterwards and then politely said some NON PC things about manners. Jesus!

  2. It doesn’t end. We’re sending our two kids off to college and they have Parent Orientation and Family Day and all sorts of events where we are expected to show up to learn about their college and all of the things that need to get done because, heaven forbid, we send our little darlings off with the expectation that they are now responsible for figuring these things out themselves. I asked my mom about this a few months ago … in her memory, when I went to college, she knew virtually nothing about my classes and what I did while I was there. Why? Because I was raised to take responsibility for myself.

    Not anymore. It’s stunning how colleges are keeping parents involved. Not me. Every time one of these comes up and my wife mentions it, my response is, “Why?” and I don’t go.

    1. Are you serious? It doesn’t end? Ugh. I’ve been hearing stories lately about the parents that coddle their college kids. One Mom slept on the floor of her kids’ dorm room the first week. Another mom was renting an apartment for the first three months in case her kid needed her. WHAT? The last thing I wanted when I went to college was for my mom to be hovering! It is crazy. And we wonder why kids are more entitled? I’ve read articles about the rise in depression among this age group because they’ve been so babied that the first failure or obstacle they come across breaks them. People are ridiculous.

    2. In college I find those two events can be helpful.. My dad was able to help me settle into my college so went to the orientation session that first day (a lot of reassuring parents as they sent their teens off to school to be relatively independant)… and I know family day was special for some, a chance to show off their campus, introduce friends and teachers… I tried to hide out during those because my family couldn’t come which made it hard.
      But after freshman year most didn’t participate

      1. I vaguely remember a Parent Orientation and definitely Family Day when I was in school. I don’t know if either helped me but I think the Parent Orientation definitely helped my parents. I think he is saying that it doesn’t stop there. Of course, it’s been decades since I was in college so I have no idea how much things have changed. I sincerely hope it hasn’t turned into a thing where parents are expected to turn up for events all year. That kind of defeats the purpose of “going away” to school!

      1. I have no idea. Our supply list also specified a brand name pencil. I’ve had many pencils in my life and I can’t tell the difference in brands. And the school supply lists when I was young? Notebook and pencil. Done. We still managed to learn.

    1. Thank you Alli! I have heard that some pencils are more likely to break? Other than that I’m not sure. And I’m sure some teachers like to have coordinated colored folders for all the kids. BUT it’s not necessary. It just gets to be a LOT of stuff. Especially when you have more than one kid. I am going to keep a list this year of all the little things. I’m curious to see how much it adds up to at the end of the year!

      1. That sounds like an interesting experiment 🙂
        Yes, there’s maybe a reason for some but.. it is a lot! Interesting thoughts on privileged as well — I should ask some of the teachers I know what the back-to-school lists look like for their schools (since they teach in a variety of different types of schools).

  3. Re: the fundraisers. Peer pressure. The kid who sells the most stupid junk gets special attention and rewards. Kids from poor families/neighborhoods where people can’t afford stupid junk get ostracized. Again. There’s a whole post on that issue alone.

  4. You make a lot of very good points here about our school system. That being said, I just want to say, if John Belushi, Miley Cyrus and Lindsay Lohan were ever going to party together, I’d be staying as far as possible from that train wreck! (Like the opposite side of the planet.)

    1. Ha! I know! It would not be pretty! But my house did look like Jon Belushi had spit mashed potatoes out and ran through the house yelling “Toga!” 🙂 And thank you.

  5. This reminds me, I need to do an inventory of how many three-ring binders we have left year after M graduated. And this was with me recycling what I could from year to year!

    1. My older daughter really stresses about these things. I told her we were going to hold off until we got a feel for what she needed. Cause, you know, I can go to the store again. But she was really stressing and starting Middle School for the first time so I gave in, if only to ease her anxiety. But I’m predicting that half of the things I bough will sit in her locker all year.

  6. Nobody breaks this shit down like you, GKelly. It’s hilarious and eye opening and smart and EVERYONE SHOULD READ IT.

    This is why I love you so much 💜

  7. Yep, pretty much. You have such a way of putting into words all the things most of us are probably thinking. We are right now sorting through the school supply list and trying to decide whether to shop at school or shop elsewhere. Sigh.

    1. Thank you so much Lisa! I have heard of some schools that ask for a flat fee and they buy all the supplies. This makes so much more sense to me. They can buy in bulk and get a discount and I’m thinking the list would get a lot less ridiculous!

  8. Oh my god, yes. So many nods of the head, here. I am a teacher (I feel like I mention this every time I comment here, sorry!!) and while I do understand the specific folder colors (for subjects and easy sorting), brand name stuff is ridiculous (and sort of reeks of partnerships with companies to drive sales)… I had an art teacher once tell me I could NOT do a project properly without the XYZ pencil set… but I didn’t have the money. I used one Eagle pencil and did my project.

    He used that art as an example to show value and shade. I felt bad, because he asked me which pencils, B-H I used, and I had to sheepishly sort of say “an Eagle pencil.” It took him a moment, before he was like “The one with the pink eraser?!” and I was like “Um…. yes.” I was totally expecting to be failed…. but he sort of looked sheepish himself and said, “Well, don’t I feel like an ass. Nice work on the project.” 😛 So, that was a bit of validation to ignore school supply lists in the future!

  9. The insanity is catching on here in the UK too. It makes me glad I live eighty miles away from my kids’ school (they live with their other father).

  10. My kids are in kindergarten and first grade and I’m blown away by how much homework they have! Or should I say, how much homework I have because at that age they can’t do it on their own. And don’t get me started on the school supplies. 5 packages of highlighters (25 in all) for a kindergartner? I don’t feel guilty about not attending all the events/fundraisers because I need to protect my sanity. I’ll do the ones where ice cream is involved but that’s about it. 😉

  11. When my son was younger, my husband and I could barely afford school supplies every year. We definitely weren’t buying name brand shit, and inevitably, there was something we could not afford on the list. My husband, who grew up in a teacher/military household, would always tell me not to stress because they would FIND supplies for kids if they didn’t have them, that’s why you had to buy so many damn pencils to begin with. Now that my daughter is in school–3rd grade this year–the list is even more extreme than it was. I am grateful our circumstances improved from below poverty line to being able to afford school supplies. What about the kids who CAN’T buy them? My kiddo attends one of those Title I schools, and not all the kids in her class are eating every day. Which is why they offer free breakfast to all students regardless of income (which she can’t eat, because apparently school breakfast=gluten only) but it’s the thought that counts.

    I will say, having WORKED in the schools as a technician and being in every single classroom and closet in over 30 buildings for our county..there are a LOT of supplies, even in Title I and poorer schools, that are left over/hoarded by teachers. I know this isn’t the case everywhere..but it happens here.

    It’s nuts! I always want to ask the teacher: What, exactly, are you going to do with 5×20=100 dry erase markers? I mean..really?

  12. Oh! And I forgot: They will teach your kids how to lay a guilt trip on you that would make a Catholic school nun blush. –> cracked me up! Best line EVER!

  13. Love this! Favorite part was the bit about fund raising. Yes I also refused to pimp out the names/addresses of friends and family for a magazine sales drive. I was OK with donating magazines for the USO that was it. My daughter was obsessed with wanting to sell these stupid magazines so she could get monkey key chains (aka: off gassing pieces of shit that broke immediately). And the worst part is they start this shit off with a pep rally in the school gym where the kids are brain washed (Jim Jones style) into how fabulous this is and then parade the prizes around. So it takes away from actual learning time and creates a host of problems that didn’t previously exist. Yes I would much rather just write the check. Do not sip the Kool Aid people.

  14. Another thought you personally helped me with: middle/high school teachers could think of the supplies list collectively. You suggested a notebook that Charlie could use for multiple purposes because his inherited flightiness would make juggling: 3 ring binders, 6 spiral notebooks and umpteen three pronged (no pockets! don’t DO IT!) folders more painful than Lindsey Lohan’s hangovers.

  15. Does your child go to a public school?
    I have 3 kids at 3 schools (an elementary, a middle, and a high school). Each school had different lists for supplies, but they’re not mandatory. Every year we buy what we can. I’m never made to feel badly if we don’t. We have fundraisers, but again, it’s not that big of a deal. My children do go to school with a parent population that is clamoring to volunteer. Some of these parents are definitely helicopters, but most just know that the teachers who have 30+ kids in their class can get a lot more accomplished with parent volunteers.
    On the other hand, I work at a school in the same district that’s a Title I school. I have no parent volunteers. None of my students brought any supplies (and they have a knack for losing 25 pencils per day). There are no helicopter parents here. I have yet to meet half of my parents and have had less than half show up for their parent conferences. We barely ask them for anything at all. They do, however, show up if their kid gets an award or performs in a show. I always try to make it for my own kids when they do the same – I don’t think that’s something to stop or to be ashamed of. Kids want to know their parents support them and want to see them succeed, and I think there’s a difference between awarding kids for nothing and supporting them in their endeavors, and watching them do something they are proud of.

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