The Real Cost of Being a Teacher
This fall, the daughter of one of my co-workers was eager to start her first school year as a new teacher in a nearby urban school district. After she was hired over the summer and received her classroom keys, she was eager to get into the room to start decorating her space in anticipation of the first day of school. To her dismay, she was shocked to open her classroom door to find an empty, barren room with paint peeling from the walls and stains on the ceiling tiles. Her principal told her there was no money in the budget to paint the room but agreed to let the new teacher fund the project on her own. With that she set to work, painting her classroom a cheery blue color as a backdrop for her posters and classroom decorations. On her first day, she learned one of the hardest lessons of any new teacher: It is expensive to be a teacher.
With budget deficits a hot button issue in many school communities, teachers are often left to make up the difference to provide what is necessary for their students. Ross Brenneman of Education Week notes that for new teachers, classrooms aren’t just blank slates, they’re blank, expensive slates. Brenneman warns new teachers that if they don’t look for ways to share supplies or stretch the ones that they already have, they can be in trouble. Roxanna Elden, a teacher and author of the book See Me After Class, stressed that new teachers may be susceptible to pressure to "catch up" to veteran teachers. Elden writes, “You look at your classroom and it's just got the one poster with a cat hanging on a tree and maybe the alphabet at the top, and you keep feeling like, 'I need more stuff in here.” Elden went on to suggest, “A teacher in a dollar store is a dangerous situation."
A recent Education Week article cited this report from educational publishing giant Scholastic which summarized the findings from a survey of nearly 5,000 public school teachers, librarians, and administrators on equity in education. The article states, “An overwhelming majority of educators agree that equity in education should be a national priority—but in the meantime, teachers report dipping into their own pockets to help fill in the gaps.” The article went on to conclude that on average, teachers spent $530 of their own money on supplies for their classroom. In high-poverty areas, this number was significantly higher, an average of $672 annually. The most popular purchases by roughly 75% or more of teachers included things like classroom decorations, basic school supplies, food and snacks, cleaning supplies, and tissues. 26% of teachers reported that they also spent money on things like clothing for their students. School administrators were also spending an average of $683 per year on school supplies, with a higher number of $1014 in high poverty areas. 79% of principals surveyed said they purchased food and snacks for students.
Many teachers have turned to grants and other funding opportunities to assist them in providing resources for their students. The website DonorsChoose.org allows teachers to initiate funding requests. Since 2000, the website reports that it has funded over 800,000 teacher-initiated projects that have been supported by over 2.3 million donors, and have impacted over 20.9 million students. While donorschoose.org may be the most popular site to offer crowd-source funding for teachers, other sites like adoptaclassroom.org have helped teachers raise money also. Additionally, there are several organizations that offer classroom grants to teachers in an ongoing basis. Edutopia maintains a big list of these educational grants and resources.
Many educators have come to expect that like it or not, some classroom expenses are part of the job. Perhaps over time, with the rise of new technology tools and by raising awareness, this will change for the better. Our teachers deserve it, but more importantly, our children deserve it.
Article written originally for MultiBriefs Education.