Hello Parents and Students!
My name is Mr. Reich and I will be your teacher for the next several minutes as you read this post. Now everyone stand up so I can put you in an alphabetical seating arrangement 🙂
I actually do start the year with my students in an alphabetical seating arrangement because it helps me learn names quickly, I am down to about the end of week two before I know all 180 student’s names, but I hope to get better this year. But you can stay seated as I give you my recommendations for spending hard earned cash on essential back to school supplies.
I teach high school English and Language Arts, International Baccalaureate (IB) Theory of Knowledge (Philosophy) and a class called Inquiry Skills as well as Photoshop and whatever else they want me to teach. I primarily teach Freshmen and Sophomores as well as Seniors in my ToK class (education is the epicenter of acronyms). Because I get the new Freshmen every year I have seen the best and the worst of student supplies. And because I teach all levels I know what works to help kids get to the next level. Every student and situation is unique so there is no absolute formula (math teachers hate that) but I have found that the following tips can help lead to success. But also since I am high school teacher you may want to consider modifications for middle school students and definitely for elementary students.
The key to successful educational preparation is maximum organization and minimum distraction. Please excuse the rhyme, I am after all an English teacher. But seriously, I am amazed at how many distractions today’s students must deal with. Smart phones have taken over the world as well as the lives of adults and their teenage children. Add that to the already volatile mix of hormones and peer pressure and it is obvious why kids have difficulty staying focused. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, average attention span has decreased from 12 seconds to 8 seconds in the last decade. So it is your job as a parent to make sure you child is organized and that distractions are kept to a minimum so that I can do my job as a teacher and engage your child’s attention so that they can learn the skills they need to succeed in our ultra-competitive world.
So as a parent how do you minimize distractions for your scholar? Give them the tools they need to stay organized and don’t give them things that will distract them. Of course this is easier said than done, but I will do my best here:
Most important things to give them:
- A Good Backpack: A good school backpack should have from 3-5 pockets in addition to the main bag. Please do not buy your child one of those “cool” gym sacks that is just a single bag with drawstrings. This is a recipe for distraction because students cannot stay organized when they are looking through a single compartment for all of their supplies. Also, do not buy your child a backpack with 10 pockets, they will forget where they put stuff and this is another distraction.
- Lots of Pens and Pencils: This is an obvious one, but there is one important trick to this…do NOT give them all at once. Kids are notorious for losing pens, giving away pencils to friends, forgetting them in my room, breaking them by accident and a host of other minor offenses that most of us adults are guilty of as well. If you give you child a few pens and a few pencils to start the year that is enough. Keep the rest hidden and tell them to ask you whenever they need a new one and if they turn out to be more responsible than most adults you can tell them where the supply is and they will refill as needed. It is a small expense that can reap a big reward because they are always prepared for class and having enough pens and pencils to share is one of the best ways to make friends in school. Some of my happiest times as a teacher are when a student doesn’t have something to write with and without me even asking, another student offers to lend them a pencil. Of course I always have a stockpile of supplies because the kids are always leaving them behind but don’t tell your child that 😉
- Highlighters: These have become more and more important with the increase in information that today’s students and adults must handle. Highlighters are an essential tool for studying notes, because a good student will take a lot of notes during a class but most of the time only 25% of that information is really valuable and important to remember for tests and skill development. I spend a couple of days at the beginning of each year teaching how to properly highlight or underline if the student doesn’t have a highlighter. It is a small expense to give your child an extra edge.
- An Agenda: Our school gives one to all incoming Freshman and I wish we had the funds to give them to all grade levels at the beginning of the year because it is that important. Most kids have anywhere from 5-7 classes per day and the amount of homework on long term projects is substantial. If your child has an agenda and sticks to it you can monitor their work and they will not forget what they need to do to get the highest grades possible. Check to see if your school gives agendas to the students and if not let your child pick out one that they like as they will be much more likely to use it if they like it.
- Spiral Notebooks: As an English teacher I require my students to keep a journal and they can use either a composition book or a spiral. But I strongly recommend a spiral because desks are small and a spiral can be folded in half while a composition book cannot so it really helps students with their space and minimizes their distractions. Also most spirals allow paper to be torn out much more easily than a composition book and the second most valuable friend making commodity in school is paper. I would actually recommend a spiral notebook for each class so that your scholar can keep their notes organized, or if they prefer less clutter get them a 5 subject spiral notebook. 3 Ring Binders are only for the highly organized student but if your child is more organized than most they are the way to go.
Most important things not to give them:
- A Brand New Smart Phone: This is perhaps one of the most distracting pieces of equipment known to man. It is also one of the most useful and powerful, but with great power comes great responsibility. Most adults are not even responsible enough to have one of these. If you need proof of that just look into someone’s car on the freeway and you will likely see them reading a text instead of looking at the road. I do think kids should have smart phones because they are a key device in an increasingly technological world. But a new one should be given as a reward at the end of the school year for excellent grades. This way it works as an incentive and motivates the student. If you give them a new smart phone at the beginning of the year they will be so interested in playing with their new toy that they will be completed distracted from their school work.
- Beats by Dre Headphones: Not only are these incredibly expensive and as a result take up money from other important necessities, but they are incredibly distracting as kids want to constantly listen to their music and show off their headphones. I am amazed at how many kids I see walking the halls with these headphones on. I am also aware of several instances in which these expensive headphones have been stolen and have caused fights. As with smart phones I am not saying they shouldn’t have any headphones, music is an important source of inspiration and relaxation. But any large headphones are an unnecessary distraction and should be avoided.
- Expensive Jewelry: I agree that students should get new clothes at the beginning of the year, but things like chains, designer watches, bracelets, rings and other flashy jewelry results in the same distractions as the giant headphones. They can also entice thieves and cause fights.
So those are my recommendations as a high school teacher. I hope this list helps and if you have any other ideas that you think I should have included please post them in the comments section below!
Good luck and thanks for being such an awesome parent!