John Mika supplies teachers what “public” system should

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How can we call our “public education system” public, as in funded by taxpayers dollars, when, in fact it appears that school districts and school boards no longer provide even pencils and erasers?

I knew this was happening in all Western nations but not the extent of the problem until I picked up a recent People magazine in a medical office and read about retired autoworker John Mika.

As he explained it in the magazine, on his first day as a substitute teacher in a third grade Buffalo classroom, he found that only 3 of his 27 students had pencils. Now, I am assuming the regular teacher had already provided all those students with pencils.

Which means, that 24 lost theirs and needed new ones. Multiply that amount weekly or even monthly and it becomes very obvious what type of expense we are talking about — hundreds of dollars a year.

I know, there will be some who think teachers should provide those basic supplies from their paychecks. But, why? They are not a work-related expense like clothing, bulletin board decorations, happy face stamps and reward stickers. Teachers (myself included) have been paying for those kinds of extras for decades. But pencils? Surely the most basic tool needed?

I can easily recall setting up my very first classroom just before the Labour Day weekend in 1972 in preparation for the first day of school following the holiday. My homeroom was a grade six and the room itself was the art room. On each of the 33 desks (more like tables), I remember putting several notebooks (one for Language Arts, one for History, one for Science and one for Health), two pencils, one eraser and a 12 inch ruler (that was before metric) — all inside a thoroughly washed and dried ice-cream bin that I got from the local dairy.

Recycling before it was popular! Those bins were wonderful. On the first day of class the students decorated them (I was the art teacher of course) and marked their names in some way. Their purpose? To put at the back of the classroom to store their phys ed clothing — including running shoes.

So, even forty years ago, money was tight and teachers looked for ways to save the school board and parents money.

In my opinion, this has gone beyond savings and into neglect. As commendable as it is of John Mika to supply Buffalo area teachers with basic supplies, something is wrong when our education taxes keep going up and provisions keep going down.

I mean, well over a hundred years ago, our forefathers decided that society as a whole would benefit from a public education. And, so it was decided that since everyone could benefit, everyone should contribute. In return, not only would children learn to read and write and do arithmetic, they would be provided the basic tools to do so.

Yet, a quick Google search under “back-to-school supplies” indicates 300,000,000 entries!!! Meaning, that assumption no longer seems to be the case. Perhaps teachers and parents can comment here and let us know how deep the neglect goes?

Endnote: To comment on this new theme, the word “Reply” or “number” of comments will be at the top right beside the post’s title. Hard to find if you don’t know where to look.

5 thoughts on “John Mika supplies teachers what “public” system should

  1. My grade 3 son had “calculator” on the list of supplies. While probably not exactly what your looking for, it is an issue I took serious offense to. The way I see it, if you don’t know the basics, you don’t know much.
    Needless to say, we refused to buy one forcing the teacher to give it to him.


  2. Brad — You are absolutely right. Kids should be learning the skills FIRST, then using a calculator in the later grades. Sheesh! Grade 3 kids are 8 years old for goodness sake. So, is your son learning times tables and math basics the old fashioned way? Or, is it still too early to tell?


  3. I would also like to know what supplies teachers are expected to buy for their students, apart from stickers, classroom decorations (e.g., for Science units or special days like Hallowe-en) and the usual reproducibles for spelling, reading and math practice. Or, in Ontario and Canada, is it left to the parents?


  4. Sandy – back in the dark ages when I attended school, supplies were not handed out by the school. Students had to buy their own. My family was not well off, but my mother always ensured we had what we needed. Not, you will note, what we wanted; what we needed. And we had to take care of said supplies, as there wasn’t a limitless supply (and this included pen nibs).

    Some years later, a neighbour commented about those days, and how haveing a schoolmate from a wealthier neighbourhood who always had the latest ‘toys’ made things more difficult. There was no mention that having the school board provide would have been easier; the money would still be coming from the parents one way or another, and with less thrift had everything been ‘free’.

    Our children were always at schools where the supplies were our responsibility. They always had what was needed, but anything fancy came out of their allowances or their babysitting earnings. Needless to say, they didn’t succumb too often to the latest fads, particularly when Mum was standing at the till holding out her hand for the child’s contribution.

    I know there are some children genuinely in need, but also think a lot of parental grumbling is because the parents succumb to the “I want” whine instead of determing genuine need.


  5. I hear you Frances. I have no problem with kids paying for coloured pencils or pen nibs or pencil cases, but IMO, in elementary school, notebooks should be provided because boards get them cheap in huge quantities. Then, there are no fancy binders by the rich kids for comparison purposes. Of course, I know that kids have always paid for three-ring binders and paper in high school. I can’t recall whether we had to buy our own textbooks or not in high school but I think so. I recall there being used texts. But, in terms of elementary school, pencils are just the basic tool of learning and I think they at least should be provided.

    Anyway, as Mika found out, teachers have to pretty much buy everything they use in the classroom nowadays. Which makes me wonder about basal readers and other texts in the younger grades and who pays for them. Nurses who work in hospitals don’t supply bandaids or kleenex to their patients. Nor do doctors.

    One other thing, practices were always different from secular public and Catholic. In Ontario, until Mike Harris changed the funding formula and gave both public systems equal dollars, Catholic boards had to do with 60 cents on every dollar. So, parents had to pick up the expense of basic supplies.


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