Decades-old books with missing pages. Floors with mismatched tiles. Ceilings with patches of mold and wasps nests. Cramped portable classrooms. Libraries without books.
These snapshots of disheveled classrooms can be shocking to see, yet they make up the reality of the learning and working conditions for many of today’s teachers and students after years of budget cuts. And in recent weeks, the state of American classrooms and education has been at the forefront of the national conversation. Teachers have been protesting low pay and statewide education budget cuts in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Arizona. One professor recently wrote in Education Week that while these states are starting the momentum for better school conditions, they likely won’t be the last to push for better work environments and pay.
On average teachers make $58,352, according to the National Education Association, and teacher pay varies drastically from state to state. But with cuts to state funding, teachers are often forced to dip into their own savings to provide the necessary materials and resources their students need. This comes at a high cost, with many teachers turning to afterschool side gigs to make ends meet.
The New York Times asked teachers to share the conditions of what their classrooms look like, and how much of their own money they spend on resources. The Times received an overwhelming 4,200 responses that capture the paradigm in which many teachers say they face high expectations set by states, but lack the tools necessary to meet them.
@dougducey My wife teaches at the top ranked public high school in Arizona. This is her faculty bathroom. If you can’t get behind teacher raises, how about bathroom improvements? #redfored pic.twitter.com/ya7Kfp3raI
— Sam Partain (@PartainSam) April 6, 2018
Texas elementary school teacher Beth Etzler, who has been teaching for 25 years and earns $51,000, showed the Times a photo of a bare classroom, and one of a colorful classroom fully stocked with books and supplies. The difference is the $2,000 that she takes out of her salary every year to keep her classroom adequately supplied, she wrote.
And while Oklahoma junior high teacher Kristina Johnson spends $1,500-$2,000 out of pocket, it doesn’t even begin to cover the problems she faces in her classroom. Not only does her classroom house 15-year-old textbooks, Johnson told the Times it houses a wasps nest inside her leaky, moldy ceiling.
Another teacher built his own furniture for an otherwise bare classroom. One is teaching typing classes on computers with missing keys. And another is using textbooks that don’t look like more than scraps of paper.
Teachers on social media are also sharing photos of the poor conditions of their schools. And at protests at different state legislatures, demonstrators are using humor to point of just how outdated school’s resources are.
— B Hummingbird (@BDHbird44) April 6, 2018
— Edwin Rios (@Edwin_D_Rios) April 6, 2018
#redfored - needed to purchase 33 desks at an auction and reassemble them all because my room is too small for the desks they have for us and #smallerclasssizes is #notinthebudget @NEAToday @ArizonaEA @Lily_NEA @AZEdUnited #teachersaturday #whatdayoff? @dougducey @AZGilbertNews pic.twitter.com/VeaDH99Cp9
— Mrs. Rey (@Creativein5th) April 8, 2018
Two Oklahoma teachers shared these photos w/ me. Their students use these textbooks. It blows my mind. pic.twitter.com/kF6Azdlgy4
— Alexia Campbell (@AlexiaCampbell) April 2, 2018
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.