Budget & Finance

Teachers Take to Twitter to Crowdfund Classroom Supplies

By Apoorvaa Mandar Bichu — August 17, 2022 3 min read
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Like an annual end-of-summer rite, teachers’ classroom-supply wish lists are sprouting on social media. This year, wish lists are trending on Twitter, where teachers are posting under the hashtags #Clearthelist and #Adoptateacher in search of crowdfunding for needed classroom supplies, like crayons, highlighters, and paper.

According to a study by the national nonprofit AdoptAClassroom.org, educators spent an average of $750 out of pocket on classroom supplies in 2020-21, with 30 percent of them spending $1,000 or more.
The extra expenditures came at a particularly tough time for educators, as the pandemic ratcheted up teaching demands. Job satisfaction fell to an all-time low during the pandemic, with more than 4 in 10 teachers saying they were “very” or “fairly likely” to leave the profession in the next two years, according to a Merrimack College-EdWeek Research Center teacher survey from April.

“The pandemic and then economic factors have just dramatically increased stress on teachers over the last several years,” said Ann Pifer, the executive director of AdoptAClassroom.org, one of the nonprofits connecting donors with P-12 teachers and schools.

“So that’s made it really hard for teachers, [since] inflation now is taking a bite out of teachers’ already not very large paychecks, and as survey results have shown, about 96 percent of teachers say that they purchase school supplies for their students whose families can’t afford them,” she said.

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Teachers share their wish lists online

One high-profile crowdfunding effort is the Clear the List campaign, where teachers create and share Amazon wish lists of needed items on Twitter and other social media.

Their wish lists include requests for crayons, books, highlighters, glue sticks, play sets, and even specific learning resources for students with special needs.

Crowdfunding isn’t for everyone

Besides using social media and Amazon wish lists to crowdfund, nonprofits like AdoptAClassroom.org also try to help teachers and schools with their fundraising efforts.

AdoptAClassroom.org began as a crowdfunding website in 1998 and evolved over time.

It noticed in its early years that higher-income teachers and those in better-off schools were more likely to use its services for crowdfunding than teachers from lower income schools, since they already had a network of people with disposable income to reach out to through their crowdfunding pages.

“Crowdfunding doesn’t always work for teachers who teach in high-need schools,” said Carolyn Aberman, the chief corporate partnerships and marketing officer at AdoptAClassroom.org.

To help teachers from lower-income communities and high-need schools, the nonprofit launched its spotlight funds initiative, a grant program that K-12 educators can apply to for funds in five areas—the arts, STEM, COVID-19 relief, building inclusive classrooms, and natural-disaster relief.

“So, a lot of teachers in higher-needs communities that don’t have that network to reach out to, to make crowdfunding successful for them, apply for grants from our spotlight funds,” Pifer said.

Teachers can receive money through the nonprofit, through crowdfunding, the spotlight funds mentioned above, from corporate sponsors, or from individuals or foundations, who subsidize teachers directly through partnerships with AdoptAClassroom.org.

“Teachers receive funds and an online account in virtual form, and then they have 12 months to spend it and they spend it by going to our online marketplace, picking whatever they need, and it is shipped to them at their school,” Pifer said.

DonorsChoose is another nonprofit that empowers teachers to request resources for their classrooms and allows individuals to donate to public school projects. The nonprofit was founded in 2000 and pioneered a movement in classroom-crowdfunding efforts.

Since its inception, DonorsChoose has raised more than $1 billion and provided supplies to more than 739,000 teachers and over 87,000 schools, according to its official website.

As pervasive as these trends have become, some teachers say noneducators are often taken aback by teachers’ requests for basic work supplies.

Nicholas Ferroni, a social activist and a teacher at Union High School in Union Township, N.J., tweeted: “The disbelief and confusion on the face of a noneducator when I explain what Adopt a Teacher and Clear the Lists mean, and what Donors Choose is, is proof that most people are unaware of what teachers do and are expected to do.”

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