My favorite time of the year as a student was always the end of summer leading into the fall. While all my friends were dreading going back to school, I looked forward to it only because I loved back to school shopping. I still remember how excited I would get to walk into Target with my list of school supplies in hand, ready to shop the deals of the day. I lived for new crayons and notebooks, and getting my supplies ready for the first day was all I cared about. It is no surprise that as a teacher, going back to school shopping carried the same excitement. That joy, however, diminished as I realized just how much went into keeping up a shelf stocked with supplies for my students.
As an arts and crafts fanatic, I prioritized creating a space in my classroom that fostered creativity. But even all my years of over-the-top back to school shopping prep as a student could not have prepared me for how expensive preparing a class would be. My first year alone, I spent over $1000 in classroom decorations, supplies, and books. I was fortunate to have friends donate to my classroom library, otherwise I would have spent at least $500 more. That was all just for year one. In the subsequent years, my expenses decreased as many of the higher priced items were reusable, but I still found myself spending at least $400 on supplies. What is even more crazy is that my story is not exclusive to me. Last year, TIME magazine shared findings by the Education Market Association that “on average, most [teachers] spent nearly $500 last year, and one in 10 spent $1,000 or more.” While the number may seem high, in surveying my own teacher friends, the average was around $650.
Unfortunately, the expenses may be even higher for teachers working in predominantly low-income communities, under tight budgets. In another survey conducted by Communities in Schools, data found that over 90% of the 700 participating teachers buy school supplies to help off-set costs for students whose parents may be struggling with buying the necessary supplies. Even when the numbers can be frustrating as one would think that supplies and classroom decorations should be provided by the school, rather than blame schools with tight budgets for their lack of funds to stock every classroom with enough supplies for our students, join me in helping spread awareness around these often overlooked expenses.
Here is how you can help:
- Donate to a random teacher.
In all honestly, this is one of my favorite things to do. I will never forget the day I received an email from Donorschoose.org notifying me that my project, consisting of a classroom set of Chromebooks, had been funded by a random stranger. It was one of the best days of my life. Ironically, I now make a living by helping teachers integrate technology into their everyday lessons — to think my journey all started from gaining access to a classroom set of laptops. Donorschoose.org is a non-profit organization started by a teacher that allows people to fund teacher projects. You simply browse through, find a classroom project that inspires you, and give as little as a $1. If you are feeling kind today, I encourage you to donate to my friend’s project today!
- Surprise a teacher with a care package.
Never take for granted how far a new box of Clorox wipes or a pack of Post-Its can go. I know first-hand just how much I appreciated when students showed up with a box of Kleenex and a note from their parents saying “Thank You.” Really, any little thought made all the difference. If you are a parent of a student, I urge you to take the time to donate simple items to your child’s class. Teachers are not really allowed to send home a list of needed items for their class now given all the criticism that those letters garnered, but don’t let that stop you. Please feel free to get creative. And if you don’t have school-aged children, find a teacher you can sponsor. Trust me on this, all teachers love feeling supported.
- Create Awareness.
It starts with not taking teachers for granted. As a teacher myself, I often feel like there is such a strong focus on the rotten apples that the teachers who are going the extra mile are often overlooked. During this back-to-school season, I ask you to help spread awareness about just how much teachers do. They don’t just work long hours, but they also go as far as spending hundreds of dollars of their own money to ensure that their students have access to all that they need. Remember that during your next Target or office supply store run, and help us kick off the new school year on a positive note.
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