The joke goes that teaching is the only profession where employees steal supplies from home to bring them to work. From the Answer Sheet, the outstanding column written by Valerie Strauss, teachers talk about the supplies they have to buy out of their salaries for their classrooms.
Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) confesses that he, too, buys supplies as needed, but not to this extent that these teachers do. Being the grump that he is, he refuses to buy supplies that the school system should be providing. There are a few exceptions: staplers, because the quality of the school staplers is poor (in fairness to his employer, GOT has also bought staplers for his work when he was in business–same issue); whiteboard erasers, because the school provides felt erasers which smear the whiteboard because they were manufactured for chalkboards; golf pencils for those without, because that encourages children to take responsibility to bring their own basic supplies; paper clips, because GOT likes the plastic-covered ones; and that’s about it.
It should be noted that the state of Florida provides teachers an annual check to purchase classroom supplies. By law, the funds are not to be used to buy pencils, paper, and other supplies for which schools should budget and purchase from their operating funds. The funds may not be used to buy equipment or food, but they are to buy all the extras that teachers need and school budgets do not cover.
For GOT, that means compasses and protractors for Geometry, toner for his classroom printer (that he had to provide for himself because the central printers–one is broken and the school system won’t fix it; the other has a bad power supply and crashes regularly), copy paper (math uses lots of paper), tissues (taking a roll of toilet paper is a poor alternative), graph paper, and instructional aids.
The annual check is between $200 and $400 depending upon the economy and Florida’s sales tax revenues. This year, the amount is $325 per teacher.
In further fairness to the school system, most principals are good-hearted, understand that their teachers need support to succeed, and will work to get them what they need. But it takes time, planning, and patience and many teachers buy with personal funds what they could submit a purchase request for.
For example, this year my Geometry colleague and I asked to have tables and chairs in our rooms rather than student desks. The principal agreed, first and foremost because we believed that the change would improve the student learning environment. He also was not adverse to taking the desks from our rooms and allocating them to other classrooms. Due to increasing class sizes, our classrooms are always short of enough desks.
Oh, the years we teachers have had students daily move desks among the rooms on the hall based on class size so that every child had a place to sit and work! But this is a separate issue, one caused by class size, not underfunded districts.
GOT did not expect new tables and he did not get them. But it was the best the school system could do and he made it work. His colleague took one look and went to Lowe’s and bought tables for her room.
GOT has more patience and fortitude. He will not use his personal money. If he has to do without or put up with junkety furniture, so be it. He remains on the lookout for upgrades, but not on his dime.
Purchasing supplies for the classroom is a decision that no teacher should ever have to make, but every teacher has to decide: will I? if so, what are the limits?
Amazingly, Las Vegas has a solution to consider (and they are not alone):