Tax season is upon us and my husband has asked for the receipts for my educational expenses for the last year. I normally keep a zip-lock bag in the classroom labeled taxes with the current year. This year my bag was noticeably slim. I left the classroom last year to take a role mentoring teachers and have only purchased some office supplies and an extension cord for my new position.
I immediately noticed that I spent less on educational expenses the first part of this school year, significantly less than in any other year since becoming a teacher. I started to wonder how much money I have spent over the last eleven years as a teacher and if this constituted subsidizing my own job. I estimate that I have spent over $40,000 on classroom materials, office supplies, books, band-aids, organizational tools, technology, furniture, fieldtrips, book fairs and shoes for students. $40,000 is more than a beginning teacher salary in most school districts in our state. I will admit that I do not regret spending one dime on my students or my classroom and, in fact, feel quite guilty not having spent more. When I consider what I’m about to say next, I feel the greatest guilt… Teachers should stop spending money on classroom expenses.
Teachers need to stop letting policy makers off the hook and insist that we as a community adequately fund our public schools. Our willingness to do what’s right and to provide the best quality experience to the students we serve is working against us. Our current educational system is only standing because we, the teachers, are supporting it; we are financially investing in our communities through our students. Our job is to teach, advocate and build citizens, not to fund public education.
When parents walk into well-stocked classrooms they assume that their children have everything they need and in essence they do. What parents don’t realize is that teachers are paying for the majority of the supplies and materials that their children use to learn. In some educational environments it may even be part of the expectation that teachers provide supplemental learning resources for students. Policy makers are getting away with not fully funding schools. This system only survives because of the commitment of teachers.
I propose that we as teachers recommit ourselves to changing the system by using our time and money to engage our communities in discourse about educational funding. Instead of buying a set of class books or signing up for Donor’s Choose or soliciting a donation from a community business; we need to use the time we spend shopping for materials or soliciting donations more effectively. We must teach parents, neighbors and community members about the realities of public educational funding and how they can advocate for changes in educational funding to their local, state and national policy makers. We must not continue to make it easy for policy makers to shirk their responsibilities and leave the funding of public education to teachers.
This is our profession; after all we’ve already paid for it.