It’s that time of year again. Bright backpacks, yellow pencils and pink erasers adorn storefronts and shopping sites, evoking the fresh promise of a new school year.
But for all the lip-service that we pay teachers, it’s one of the only professions in which workers are routinely expected to provide the supplies necessary to do their job. Fostering a love of reading is a tall order, one made virtually impossible without funds to purchase books. Imagine asking a surgeon to come to work with their own scalpel and sutures.
If you haven’t had a child in a public school or worked in one yourself, you might assume that most teachers are given “the basics” — but the teacher wish lists you may have seen online tell a very different story. Some schools and districts are well-funded, down to the electric pencil sharpeners, but a shocking number are not.
Kelly Gallagher, a science teacher in New Jersey, told HuffPost: “I buy supplies for labs that aren’t ordered from the science supply [company] (oil, baking soda, bleach, sugar, Q-tips, cotton balls, etc.). ... I’ve done teacher wishlist programs to get things for my class, like stethoscopes, lab coats, pulse oximeters, supplemental books, and while those are technically donations, they take my time, which does have value.”
Sometimes the regulations governing purchases are downright nonsensical.
Sandra Riek Gill, who taught preschool in Bowling Green, Kentucky, told HuffPost, “The district provided a nice laser jet printer but did not provide the ink. We were told to use our classroom budget. Our yearly budget was $300 and the ink was $295.”
When students’ families don’t have the resources to provide them with basics, such as food, clothing and toiletries, teachers often step in and help out. On every level, and often at their own expense, educators chip away at the profound inequities that define our society.
Staci, a physical education teacher for 32 years, tweeted that she has purchased “clothes, shoes (tons of sneakers), personal items such as toothbrush, paste, brush, comb, towel.” She has also provided class time for elementary students to shower. In addition, she has bought “school supplies, backpacks, coats and food for the weekend” for her students.
We asked our HuffPost Parents Facebook community about the items people are surprised to learn that teachers often have to buy for their classrooms. Here’s what they told us:
- Fans: “Most of our building isn’t air conditioned, and we return on August 14th.” —Heather Mcalpin-Berkemeir, high school English teacher, Cincinnati, Ohio
- Furniture and books: “Bookcases, shelves, hundreds of books for a classroom library.” —Kathie Hilliard
- Technology and accessories: “A stand for a projector, extension cords, a computer for a student.” —Merry Mc @merrymclellan
- Cleaning supplies: “Wipes for messes” —Louise Dewaele
- A desk and chair: “Somehow not provided and we aren’t allowed to use our $75 in supply money to purchase. Also, can’t use that money for tissues, sanitizer or basic needs for students.” —Rebecca Nitterauer McCord
- Carpet: “I desperately need a new one this year, and I am not allowed to use my district provided funds.” —Sarah Underwood
- Storage: “Storage bins, posters, curtains, and sometimes furniture.” —Kim Mecum
- Decor: “Bulletin board paper/borders, incentive charts/stickers/prizes, any decorations” —Denise Iannascola Matarante; “Anything that makes it more ‘homey’” —Britany Tuetken
- Food: “Snacks for students” —Catherine Sullivan
We also scoured teacher wish lists posted online and collected some popular items:
- Adhesive bandages
- Menstrual care products
- Hand soap and lotion
- Plastic baggies
- Popsicle sticks
- Rubber bands
- Sticky notes
- Visual timer
- Poster paper
- Broom and dustpan
- Laminator and film
- Dry erase markers
- Whiteboard erasers
- Paint and paintbrushes
- iPad chargers
- Headphones for audio books and other listening activities
- Rocking chair
- Flexible seating options, such as exercise balls
- Pencil sharpener
- Copy paper
- Heavy-duty stapler
- Staple remover
- Paper towels