It’s no secret that teachers usually have to supplement their classroom supplies with money from their own pockets. In fact, 94% of U.S. public school teachers reported paying for supplies without reimbursement for the 2014-2015 school year, according to a federal Department of Education survey.
It’s not just a few bucks, either. The average teacher shelled out about $479 throughout the year, while 7% of survey respondents said they spent more than $1,000.
This year, it’s a whole new ballgame. Not only must teachers keep their classrooms stocked with glue sticks, pencils and construction paper, they need enough inventory to ensure children don’t share supplies and spread germs across the classroom. Plus, they have to maintain a large supply of personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies. And it’s not any cheaper for those who are teaching virtually.
The High Cost Of Teaching During A Pandemic
Ashley, a second grade teacher in Tampa, Florida, whose name has been changed to protect her privacy, is currently teaching in the classroom full-time. Normally, she spends about $300 at the start of every school year, and another few hundred throughout the year for holiday party supplies, teaching resources and extra supplies, if needed.
This year, she’s already spent close to $500. “I’ve purchased boxes of disposable children’s masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, wipes, disinfectant spray, children’s ear savers, a face shield for myself and student lanyards to clip their masks to in the lunchroom, which is the only time they leave the class,” she said. Ashley also purchased about two dozen pencil boxes, packs of extra pencils so she doesn’t have to touch the ones that get broken, mini hand sanitizers for each child and a few cases of water bottles since the water fountains are not in use.
Ashley said all these extra expenses have made a noticeable dent in her budget. Though her school provided a few items, it hasn’t offered to reimburse her for the extra supplies. She also said she spends countless hours working overtime, which she doesn’t get paid for. “I do it anyway because it is in the best interest for the children,” she said.
Teachers tasked with distance learning aren’t spared from higher personal costs, either.
“I’ve had to re-calculate my budget for other expenses to make work my top priority.”
Mishna Hernandez teaches eighth, 11th and 12th grade science in Los Angeles. Because she likes to do hands-on activities, it’s common for her to spend $500 to $700 out-of-pocket every school year. But now that her classroom has moved online, her expenses have grown tremendously.
Hernandez estimates that she’s already spent $3,000 in preparation for the current school year. “I bought an iPad in April to help me record my lessons and bought an iMac because I needed a better setup to hold synchronous lessons on Zoom,” she said. “I’ve also purchased a small desk setup, online resources that are conducive toward digital learning, subscriptions to apps and websites and general supplies to help me stay organized at home.”
Though she says the cost is worth it, Hernandez admits it’s definitely strained her personal budget. “I’ve had to recalculate my budget for other expenses to make work my top priority,” she said. The school hasn’t chipped in for any of these extra supplies, though she admitted she didn’t feel comfortable asking. She did request a Wi-Fi hotspot, but the school only had enough on hand for students.
Then there’s the psychological toll of trying to teach as the environment and rules keep changing.
Ashley said she’s mixed about returning to teaching during this time. Though she loves her job, teaching during the pandemic has been taxing. “I have a full classroom of 7-year-olds who have to be spaced apart in individual desks. They have to wear masks all day ... they cannot share anything. I can’t give them high fives without immediately having to sanitize both our hands,” she said. “In my nine years [of teaching], I have never felt this rundown or drained as I have this year, and students just returned Monday.”
Hernandez added that it’s become increasingly difficult to place a boundary between work and personal time. She finds herself working until early morning hours and struggling to keep up with grading. Though her peers say she seems to be handling everything with grace and dexterity, according to Hernandez, she’s in a constant state of stress on the inside.
Teachers Turn To Donations To Afford School Supplies
Teachers are used to footing part of the bill for classroom and teaching supplies. But working during the pandemic has put unprecedented strain on their personal finances. Unfortunately, for many, there isn’t much relief in the way of reimbursements or tax write-offs.
That’s led some teachers to turn to crowdfunding to meet their budget needs. Ashley, for example, made an Amazon wish list that was exclusively COVID-related. “I reached out and had several donations from my list, which has helped a lot in order to get everything I needed for the safety of my students,” she said.
Hernandez created crowdfunding campaigns on DonorsChoose and Teachers Pay Teachers. Though donations covered only a small portion of her overall costs (about $250), it certainly helped. “Without that community and family network and support, I would’ve been in a much worse financial situation,” she said.
Despite these financial challenges, both teachers said that they are grateful for their jobs and the resources their schools have been able to provide.
“I absolutely still love teaching and this hasn’t taken away from the joy I get when I interact with my kids,” Hernandez said. “I’ll continue to do what is needed of me, spending whatever money I need to spend, if it means I get to deliver meaningful and engaging lessons.”