Perhaps back in December, you saw several teachers in South Dakota scrape up classroom-supply money on a hockey stadium’s ice rink. Stories of teachers struggling to find money for their classrooms are becoming more and more commonplace. Take a district that sends its dollars to charter schools, add a recession, some inflation, and we’re using the front, back, and margins of all our lined sheets of paper, my friends.
The end result for me, a 5th grade teacher in San Diego, is a personal yearly budget of $350 from my district that must include my printer ink, copier paper, pencils, student notebooks, and lined or construction paper for the entire school year—and, heaven forbid, I should want to write something down on a chart or use a colorfully bright marker. Soccer balls? You gotta be kidding!
According to the fundraising platform AdoptAClassroom.org, teachers in 2020-21 spent $750 of their own money on their classrooms, the highest amount ever. Meanwhile, school districts around the nation are determining how to spend COVID-relief funds. As much as kids need more support for a great many things related to pandemic relief, I’d like to suggest that districts use some of the relief funds on classroom supplies.
What if teachers were given a classroom-supply budget of $3,000? It far exceeds the few hundred dollars we currently get, but it would still be well under what’s typically budgeted by the district or state. What would happen?
Let’s start with yours truly.
The first thing I would do is allot about $600 to buy the books my students want. Can’t find a book you want in the class? I’ll buy it for you. Teachers know how costly it is to keep up with the latest trend-setting reads. Providing students with motivating, engaging, and high-quality literature should always be the basis of any elementary school classroom.
I’d spend another $600 just on school supplies—everything from glue to construction paper, from copy paper to pencils. (Trust me, it would barely cover what we’d use.) School supplies keep my classroom standards and expectations high. When a classroom has the right core materials and media to work with, students have the potential to create high-quality work. Why does it seem impossible for those creating school budget allocations to see that when a teacher can’t afford paper, a teacher cannot expect children to complete an assignment written on a piece of paper? And, please, let’s not talk about switching all work to “virtual turn-ins.” I think we’ve tried that, haven’t we?
What if teachers were given a classroom-supply budget of $3,000 to spend on school supplies and materials?
With another $600, I and my colleagues would stock equipment for both physical and social interaction, as well as resources for a school garden where students would have opportunities to grow ingredients to cook healthy meals in a nutrition class. Physical and health education don’t exist in any proper form without the materials they necessitate. Students would be playing tetherball, basketball, soccer, and four square with more than enough equipment to go around.
With the next $600, I would purchase curriculum. Now, you might say, teachers are provided with all that anyway, right? Wrong. We’re provided textbooks, barely. Sometimes, we’re provided with disposable student workbooks for a subject. But with those extra dollars, I’d purchase rich curriculum with which I would spend copious amounts of my summer break reading, reworking, and tailoring to fit my students’ needs for the new school year and I would share the curriculum with my grade-level team. But if I could, I’d also purchase costumes for readers theater, so students could practice fluent reading while role-playing history; my science cabinet would be stocked full of chemistry supplies, and, at long last, there’d be terrariums and equipment for life science at my disposal.
And finally, with my last $600, I’d continue to incentivize students and reward them by hosting engaging events that bring parents, community members, kids, and staff together once it’s safe to do so. The reality is that making inroads into the community I serve is only possible with a reasonable amount of money. I’d buy telescopes as prizes for my yearly Star Night and Science Fair event. I’d purchase ice cream for all families at my yearly Malcolm X Library and Ice Cream Night. At the end of the year, we’d commemorate our hard work at Mr. Courtney’s Barbecue and Fishing End-of-Year Celebration.
What would giving teachers a budget for their own supplies do? In short, it would help them to plan fabulous lessons and buy materials that stimulate minds and activate engagement—the very types of things that bring social-emotional and rich academic learning to life.
Imagine a classroom filled to the brim with the raw materials you want your children to have. Imagine a class where the teacher and the students get what they need because your tax dollars finally go to the person best suited to purchase it for them. That’s the kind of learning environment I want for my students.
A version of this article appeared in the February 23, 2022 edition of Education Week as What Having Money for My Classroom Would Mean to Me