By Alan M. Malachowski
Parents know quite well that the fall brings the additional burden of buying back-to-school supplies requested by schools and teachers. What they may not know is that the average American teacher also feels that burden, spending $600 from his or her own pocket over the course of the year on basic classroom supplies, according to a study in 2015-16 of more than 1,800 public and private school teachers by the nonprofit AdoptAClassroom.org.
In fact, 91 percent of teachers purchase not only basic supplies but also clothing, food and personal hygiene items for students who would otherwise go without. These expenditures can total more than $1 billion every year out of the pockets of educators.
Teresa Danks, an Oklahoma teacher, hadn’t had a pay raise since 2008 and was feeling the burden of spending up to $2,000 a year on supplies for her classroom. She recently raised awareness about this issue when she took to the highway with a sign and panhandled for school supplies. As her activity went viral, people responded by donating $30,000.
While less dramatic, other teachers routinely turn to online sites that provide opportunities for them to apply for grants, get crowdfunding, or go to recycling outlets for supplies. But we believe there must be a better solution than having teachers beg for the basics.
Why does having a fully equipped classroom matter? Teachers believe that a well-decorated and engaging classroom — with adequate supplies for creative learning — is transforming, especially for students from low-income homes. It helps children to expand their limits and makes them more self-assured. In fact, according to Donorschoose.org, “Ninety-four percent of teachers said their funded projects increased their effectiveness in the classroom,” clearly demonstrating that classroom resources matter.
With a few exceptions in the business world, employees expect to have the appropriate supplies provided in order to do their jobs. Why should that be different in education? School districts need adequate funding to ensure that supplies and an enriching classroom with 21st century technology are available to all students. We need to support our teachers to make learning exciting, and a lack of supplies shouldn’t hinder their ability to do that.
In the ongoing conversations about funding the state budget, and allocating those funds, let’s continue to advocate for common-sense solutions that provide teachers and students with the resources to excel. Let’s ensure that all students can reach their potential without teachers reaching further into their own pockets to make that happen.
Alan M. Malachowski is president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, Mideastern Region, and an elementary school music teacher in the North Penn School District.
Credit: The Intelligencer