Teachers Change Lives

Teachers Change Lives

This post is brought to you by Office Depot’s #TeachersChangeLives program. Register your child’s classroom, so the students have the school supplies they need to succeed.

Can we talk some more about public schools today? They’re on my mind. Last month a vacuum was unexpectedly delivered to my house (long story, I’ll tell you about it another time). While it’s always fun to get a surprise in the mail, the vacuum sat unopened in a box for many days while I figured out what to do with it. Why? Because we don’t need a new vacuum — the one we had when we lived in Colorado still works just fine.

Happily, Betty brought home a class newsletter that mentioned her teacher was looking for a vacuum for their classroom. Bingo! I dropped the brand new vacuum off at her classroom the next day, glad it could benefit dozens of kids for many years to come.

But the experience had me thinking. If I hadn’t had that vacuum sitting in a box by the front door, would I have even noticed that request on the newsletter? (Answer: I highly doubt it.)

At the start of the year, our teachers in New York, Colorado, France and now California, had students bring in school supplies, plus some general classroom supplies too — like tissue boxes and hand soap. I think this is pretty typical and I imagine that if you have school age kids you have experienced the same thing.

In New York and Colorado, that was basically it as far as school supplies went. We never really had further requests from teachers. I’m not talking about class parties or special events, I’m referring to the everyday school supplies — folders, pencils, markers, erasers, paper, etc..

But here in Oakland, it’s been a little different. Some teachers have sent home additional requests throughout the year via class newsletters or emails. Things like sticky notes, permanent markers, more tissue boxes, more pencils. Of course, we try to keep an eye out for the requests and try to remember to send materials in — and I know many families at our school try to as well. But sometimes I forget. Or sometimes I assume another family has taken care of it. Or sometimes I just don’t make time.

AAC Infographic-3

And the reality is, even if I don’t want to face it, that many of those school supply requests aren’t met. And that means teachers often end up spending from their own pockets. Which should not be happening! But surveys tell us this is so common that at this point, it’s almost ridiculous. For those of you who like stats and numbers, try these on:

– Teachers spend as much as $1000 out of their own pockets on materials for their classrooms, every year.
– 75% of all classroom supplies are bought by teachers.
– Nationally, teachers spend a total of $1.3 billion a year on classroom supplies.
– 15 Million school children come from improvised families that cannot even provide basic supplies that children need to succeed in school.

Shocking, right? So I’ve been wondering how I could be more helpful. Or somehow make it more straightforward. Then Office Depot sent me an email about their Teachers Change Lives program and a I had another Bingo! moment. Clearly, I’m not the first person who noticed this problem. There’s a great program already in place! Public schools across America are having a hard time. Funding for supplies has been cut. And teachers often make up the difference from their own pockets. So Office Depot has partnered with Adopt a Classroom, and they are helping teachers across the country.

It’s a super smart program. Basically, your child’s teacher can register his or her classroom, then the community (parents of students, aunts & uncles, even grandparents who live out of state) funds the classroom, and those who donate receive updates on their impact!

To highlight this program Office Depot & Adopt a Classroom are featuring the stories of educators throughout the U.S. that go above and beyond in the classroom. These stories range from teachers in underprivileged and underfunded schools, to teachers that take innovation in the classroom to the next level, and everything in between. With teachers already doing so much with so little, think how much more they could do with support from the community. Go here and scroll down to see all the videos — they’re really well done, they had me in tears!

Did you watch that? I mean come one. Mary Kurt-Mason should not have to pay for school supplies from her own pocket! You can make a difference by visiting the Teachers Change Lives page. In fact, all of the teachers shown in the videos are registered with Adopt A Classroom. So you can donate to their classroom, or you can donate to a teacher in your own life, or even to the cause as a whole.

And now I’d love to hear, what’s it like at your school? Do teachers make school supply requests of parents? Do you feel like the statistics I listed above are accurate for your community? Have you ever heard of Adopt-A-Classroom? Is your child’s classroom registered? And if you’re a teacher, let us know how often, if ever, you find yourself buying school supplies for your classroom.

P.S. — I care a lot about this topic (maybe because my dad was a public school teacher) and want to encourage conversation and awareness about it, so here’s some extra motivation: add to the conversation below, and I’ll randomly pick one commenter and personally make a $150 donation to their child’s classroom!

107 thoughts on “Teachers Change Lives”

  1. I am puzzled and shocked. The school doesn’t supply that?! Parents (and teachers!) are meant to buy school supplies such as vacuums and stuff?! Wow. Maybe I have always lived in a bubble but I thought schools supplied their own cleaning products and utensils and children brought their own pencils for their own use?
    I am curious to see how it worked in France, because from this side of the Atlantic this sound very alien!
    Alice x
    http://www.tuckandboak.com

  2. Caron Edmunds

    Hi from South Africa!
    At the beginning of each school year I ask each of my son’s teachers for a list of ten things that they would like for their classrooms. The lists we get are usually the things that are not provided by the school and which the teachers end up buying themselves. The items range from extra stationery needs to water bottles for each child, and before have included special toys, extra storage solutions, a globe, dress-up clothes, a bird feeder and a notice board. My husband and I try as far as possible through the year to ensure that we get everything on the list – our sons and their friends reap the benefits and the teachers are truly appreciative of any help.
    I believe that teaching truly is a calling; teachers give so much of themselves, they shouldn’t be expected to give financially too!

  3. As a public school art teacher and a mother of children who attend urban public school THANK YOU! In our neighborhood most of the families opt for private or parochial schools. We are one of the handful of family’s that go to the public school. It endeared me to your family to see the decision you made with your children regarding school. Not only have my children gotten a fantastic education, thank you teachers, they attend school with a global community and I am not talking about the internet. Not only do the learn academics each day, they learn real life from their friends who are similar yet so different from them. What is beautiful is that the differences slide away and kids are just kids. Gabrielle you are wonderful!

  4. As far as supplies you are right. I spend so much money for my students. I also collect so many supplies from the garbage. The best is though, when a parent comes and say I have xyz, do you think you want it?

  5. Thank you so much for highlighting such a worthy cause. It’s so frustrating that public schools need to be so reliant on private donations to have such basic needs met, especially when you consider that schools in lower-income areas, where budgets are already bare-bones, they also don’t have access to the thousands of dollars that parents privately donate in wealthier districts (not to mention all the volunteer hours they log).
    You know how Target has that program where if you use their credit card they give 1% back to a school of your choice? I signed up for the card about 10 years ago, and selected a school in my (then) neighborhood in Baltimore, where I’d done some volunteer work as a student. I just noticed on their website a couple months ago that you can see how much you’ve given over the years, and how many other people are sponsoring the school with their card. Guess what? For 10 years, I have been the sole donor to the school through this program. For comparison, a public school near me in Brooklyn (where people clamor to get their kids in) has 50 donors, in addition to dozens of parent-funded special programs for their kids. On one hand, I sound awful talking like this — what, am I suggesting that parents shouldn’t want supplies and opportunities for their kids? — but it makes me so mad that such reliance on parent donations just widens the gap between what middle-class and wealthier kids get vs. their poorer neighbors. I guess I just wish programs that allow you to sponsor your kid’s classroom would also provide easy ways to connect you with classrooms in very great need, because they’re out there, and nobody is helping them.

  6. We received a robust list for my kindergartener this year, and I think we spent $70 on supplies, but also purchased extra. The teachers also request healthy snack items, and we do get notices from time to time when snack is running low and supplies, too. They have a communal bin at each work station, so all items are pooled together, but as my daughter’s teacher said, “glue sticks are gold in kindergarten.” Gone are the days of when a snack cart with milk comes to the classroom in the afternoon (my case in kindergarten), and I’m happy that my family is able to help out, and that people do what they can. Please note that teachers might not always need “stuff,” but a helping hand in the library or cafeteria duty – time helps, too! Thanks for bringing this important issue to light.

  7. Pingback: Teachers Change Lives | Isupon

  8. Gabrielle,

    I love your passion and your constant thoughtfulness and generosity.

    I have three children currently being home schooled, 1 at the Catholic high school, and 3 at the Catholic grade school. Those teachers make even less than the public schools and use even more of their own money to supplement classroom supplies – in my experience – for grade school classes anyhow. I was a public school teacher, grew up in the system and had a great experience. Some of our children attended a fabulous public school in our last town, and we live in an excellent district now. Some of our children may end up in the public school again. It is truly a year-by-year, child-by-child decision for our family.

    I share those stats to hopefully ‘prove’ to a stranger that I admire that I am pretty balanced. Sure, we are formed by our own experiences, but I am not anti-public school and neither is my husband. My father-in-law was a teacher/principal in the public school system and when he retired, he went to work in the Catholic schools for pennies compared to what he made before.

    Yes, we need to help when asked and stretch ourselves, often times without questioning the teacher, b/c we are not there doing all the planning, seeing all the needs, trying to meet district, state goals, etc. However, there is usually a less-expensive way to get things done. I know, b/c I did it while I was in the classroom, and I do it now as a home school teacher. The stats show that more money in the classroom doesn’t produce better results. It just doesn’t. If you compare the average U.S. school district to that of a number of other countries, they are doing better than we are. If you compare individual districts within a single state, there is not a direct correlation of money spent to test scores. In fact, there are some districts where very little is spent per student and their scores are fabulous.

    In a nut, I think the system needs to be revamped. Very few jobs/vocations/careers allow under-performing personal to retain their positions. The NEA is a powerful lobbyist – one of the most powerful. Great teachers could earn more, and bad schools would shut down b/c poor teachers loose their positions and students and parents would have some choice in their schooling. Obviously, not every poor performing school has all bad teachers. Those good ones would have no trouble getting a job…just like any other company that goes under.

    Also, your stats on poverty…do me in every.single.time. Yes, those numbers ‘fit’ what we have decided is poverty, but I have kids in my children’s classrooms that are “in poverty” with their Ipods and Iphones and talk about all their flat screen t.v.s and gaming systems and they eat fine. One in particular has a healthy father, around 30 years of age living with the family, but his parents have never married (six kids) b/c it pays to stay separate. They receive more in government aid if they do not marry and if he does not get a job. We have several friends who have small businesses that are doing very well, but they are in constant need of employees (paid $56,000/yr. with high school degree), but they cannot pass the drug tests and/or decide one day just not to go to work – just discussed all of this at a local businesses meeting for the community.

    Again, the system needs to be revamped.

    Please know that I defend these people until I am blue…we cannot judge every situation and there is always more than what we know. But I volunteer at the local soup kitchen, so I see a lot. I volunteer at the local Right To Life office, so I see a lot. I also help at the local crisis pregnancy center, so I see a lot. We have personally supported a family through counseling and groceries while they went through tremendous difficulty. We sponsor children from other countries, we have adopted domestically and internationally. I’m not touting my goodness, but I am showing that I think my husband and I have seen a lot, and have seen what is working and what is continuing to fail miserably.

    Public school monies are not improving our system…we continue to go downhill despite spending more money. It is a product of the government and if we cannot see that our government is not great in how to spend money, then we will continue to waste and accept waste as normal.

    We need to do more at the local level, all the way around, b/c money is then not lost in the system paying X,Y, and Z to redistribute it. That is why I support your notion that we give to help our teachers…it is direct and local. How much is lost in this Office Depot idea? Great idea, but is it most efficient? I truly am curious how many cents on the dollar donated to a specific classroom go elsewhere. If nothing, then Whoo- Hoo!!!! I support it! :-)

    Thanks for all you do and for allowing people to disagree with you. You have my utmost respect. Now that I have spent all this time, back to home schooling!

  9. Now that my guys are in high school and beyond, I realize how much more support elementary and middle school teachers have vs. high school teachers in terms of requests for materials. Not to say that teachers at these younger grades don’t pay for materials {they do!} but we don’t hear about requests for high schoolers. And our school has lots of kids who could use help. That said, ALL teachers are heroes in my book, and I’ve not met one who didn’t pay for classroom stuff from her or his own pocket. Thank you so much for bring this to light ~ you rock!

  10. Wow! Some great comments! I agree with Christina on many of her points. It’s sad that the kids have Ipods but not basic supplies. I blame the parents for this. Why do they deem elctronics more important than academics? On the other hand, so many kids have these things and it is hard to be the one “without” all the time. I don’t know, change needs to happen that’s for sure. My children all went to Catholic school so we had to buy/pay for many of the supplies and extras on our own. My daughter though, is a 1st grade teacher in the public school system and she sepnds so much money out of pocket each year. Not just for suppiles and learning tools but for individual children as well. I have even bought shoes for one child (anonymously) whose family was struggling. But as my daughter’s family grows, she is pregnant with her 3rd, she has less disposable income to use in her classroom. The statistics don’t surprise me. I thank you for bringing it up for discussion. Love your blog!

  11. So far, I haven’t received any additional requests for supplies from my kids’ teachers, aside from asking for more tissues or germ-X during cold season. My sister is a teacher and my in-laws were teachers for many years. I know it’s hard for teachers to keep their classrooms stocked and I’m excited that there’s a program out there to help. I wish there was more I could do and I hate that schools are so underfunded.

  12. When we purchase school supplies for my daughter, we always buy an extra set and donate to the teacher. She can use it for the classroom, or give it to a student who doesn’t have the means to purchase the supply list. We also buy a backpack and present everything to the teacher at the Meet the Teacher night, or Back to School event before school starts.

  13. Thanks for bringing up this topic, Gabrielle! Our children attend wonderful public schools and are blessed with teachers who go above and beyond what is required and, while they don’t broadcast it, I know for a fact that they spend their own money on everything from school supplies to books and clothing for kids who need it. I’ll definitely look into the Adopt-A-Classroom program.

  14. i think this is a wonderful idea – although when you get down to it i think the districts should be funded so that teachers do not have to subsidize our public education system. it’s just wrong. that said, i try to help out and would love my son’s teacher to get the money – she gives 150% of herself to the class every day!

  15. This subject is a boiling pot. I work in the school system in my area and see two things: a lot of waste in the schools and a whole lot more heart from teachers that are trying to make a difference- meaning they put their all into their job, including their own money. Ugh!
    I am also in the school district of the most recent mudslide in Oso. The students have been so strong and caring throughout the loss of possessions and friends’ lives. Within days students and parents and teachers, on their own initiative, put together fundraisers to help these families that have lost so much. School isn’t just for learning facts, it’s to learn how to live as a compassionate human being.

  16. Ooh, I love everything *else* you do, but I don’t like this program at all. Could Office Depot get any more self-serving? Pat itself on its back for its civic-mindedness while setting up a website so that people will feel guilty and purchase its products at retail price to donate to our schools and teachers what they should already have to educate our kids? That’s nauseating. I totally agree that teachers shouldn’t be paying for school supplies out of pocket, at full retail price. They should have the supplies they need because they have adequate funding to buy them, and the purchasing power of governments and school districts to negotiate good prices. Or here’s an idea: maybe Office Depot could actually donate school supplies to disadvantaged schools! This kind of program only works if the school has a base of community support that is fairly privileged to begin with. What happens if none of the kids and grandparents in your school district can afford to private fund the purchase of school supplies by enriching Office Depot?

  17. My parents were both teachers and they would surely downplay all the extra that they did and bought, but I remember. They spent hours upon hours grading papers, making lesson plans, putting up bulletin boards and supplying countless extras in the class that their schools did not supply for them. They were amazing at their life’s callings and still are amazing folks.

  18. Another mention for donorschoose.org, it’s a great organization.

    our classroom teachers (in NYC) use adopt-a-classroom instead of having families bring in the basics at the beginning of the year (pencils, paper towels, paper, etc). Parents donate money (no set amount – it’s based on what you think is appropriate/can afford) and the money is pooled so the teachers can use it throughout the year to buy as needed – it’s also cheaper (buy in bulk for better price) and they can buy exactly what they need – have 15 boxes of pencils left over from last year? Great, no need to buy anymore until later in the year. It’s so much easier for parents, and so much more efficient for teachers.

    Then again, wouldn’t it be great if this stuff was automatically supplied by the school system???

  19. We have had to buy supplies all year long – including snacks for the classrooms. (in WA state) I always try to help when I can so our teacher can focus on teaching!

  20. When I did my taxes this year I found that I had spent $1,978.00 on supplies and materials for my students. It was shocking to say the least. I don’t mind spending the money, but it is a little hard to swallow when the comments in our local paper about teachers are that we are bottom feeding ******* that work too little and make too much. My principal tells me to quit reading the comments. Maybe someday I’ll be able to follow his advise.

    1. I don’t know what they’re paying you, but it’s certainly not enough for you to be spending that much out of your own pocket! Yikes. Bless your heart. :)

      I agree with your principal’s advice. Actually, isn’t “don’t read the comments” kind of a blogger inside joke, too? Haha. But another idea is maybe you could REPLY with your own comments. Maybe you could tie this topic in somehow?

  21. Teaching resources are really expensive; and I’m not just talking about pens and tissue but puzzles, books, blocks, counting rods, pocket charts… etc. And not only are teachers spending thousands of dollars out-of-pocket, but hours and hours of their free time. 90% of prep work (printing, laminating, cutting…), lesson planning (year plans, unit plans, time requirement per subject, and daily lesson plans), marking and report cards are done evenings and weekends. It is a job you take home with you every-single-night and is very time consuming!

  22. Great post! I am a teacher now, for over 20 years (what:). I continue to pay for school supplies and tons of stuff for crafts, math work, books, etc every year. In our district, some of our parent groups give us a small portion of funds for our classrooms and we do ask for families to purchase some supplies but it is never enough. Just last week I went to the store twice, for art supplies and a health activity we did. It never ends. I don’t think most people have any idea– as you know, we don’t get well paid overall for what we do (long stories I could tell…)

  23. First, thank you for posting this story. I am familiar with DonorsChoose.org, but had not heard of Office Depot’s program.
    On your question, yes teachers in my district spend their own money on school supplies for themselves and our students. My first year teaching I kept the receipts and had spent close to $4,000. I’ve wised up since then, and my district has contributed much more to my classroom (including new furniture for the first time this year), but there always seemed something to buy – including decorations for our classroom that are required but not funded. Buying supplementary curriculum is something we all do too. I love teaching, so I {usually} feel it’s worth it, but I’m hard-pressed to come up with other jobs where people pay to do them (except social workers – they’re always bucking up dough).

  24. I teach kindergarten in an urban, Title 1 school with mostly English Language Learners for students. The school is 99% free and reduced lunch, and a lot of kids come to school very hungry on Mondays–we give them snack packs for the weekends. I spend probably $1500 a year on materials, curriculum and other “necessities” for the classroom and my students. My district doesn’t buy us much more then paper and pencils. A few years ago I became acquainted with Donor’s Choose through a friend and have now written more then 20 projects for my classroom.
    Check out DonorsChoose.org and the link is: http://www.donorschoose.org. There’s an article about the founder Charles Best in a recent piece in Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/sites/ryanmac/2012/09/18/donorschooses-charles-best-pioneering-citizen-philanthropy.
    I really appreciate all the donors out there that are willing to provide support to the many teachers across the country!

  25. this whole thing is completely ridiculous to me. as a former washington dc public school teacher i am all to aware of the cost of setting up a classroom (or cart in my case, for i didn’t even have a classroom, rather a cart i rolled from room to room. a cart was a blessing because i started out lugging bags from room to room on different floors of the building). i’m not even going to talk about the fact that i had NO curriculum for my students (this was 1999). my problem with the whole thing, is the fact that the money public schools have is not being spent wisely (which is another whole topic). there is no reason that parents/guardians should have to continue to be badgered with all the requests for the classroom. nor should a teacher have to outfit a classroom. take a good look at your school/school district and there is money being spent in all the wrong places. a vacuum? where is the custodial staff? is the classroom not being properly cleaned each day after school? and as i just typed that i’m realizing there may be some “practical life” skills the teacher may want to be instilling in the students. regardless, it takes resources (that schools/districts have) to get the quality materials to teach children. those resources should be available to the teachers and students (who need them). any teacher should be able to set up his/her classroom with school resources (any “extras” or “luxuries” he/she can get on their own…i have a thing for sparkly gel pens, other colleagues had to have “their” office chair, etc.). this is only scratching the surface of issues in our public education system. and unfortunately for all of us, our entire education system (“system” i said, not “teachers”…don’t want anyone to think i’m targeting teachers, i’m targeting our education system), in this, one of the most blessed countries in the world, is crap (for lack of a better word). where is the money (and we all know it’s there) in our school districts going? you’ll find a lot of waste for sure!

    1. Totally agree! I just posted below about needing a bookcase as a classroom teacher. Why the district provided ample books (and I was lucky in this case) but no place to store them and keep them in good condition is beyond me. Thank goodness parents were willing to pitch in but, you’re correct, they shouldn’t have to.

  26. My daughter isn’t in school yet but as a former teacher I’ve been on the other side of this. I’d say $1000/year is probably about right and that’s with bargain shopping and scouring garage sales, thrift stores, etc year round for needed supplies.
    As a former teacher, one of the best classroom donations I ever received was a gift card to Ikea. It was given after a family asked what I needed and I honestly answered, “a bookcase.” I think it was for $100 or $150 and I stretched that card so far – a bookcase (of course) but also baskets to arrange books and other materials in, some pillows to make our reading nook more homey, and even a few “kitchen” cabinets that I then convinced our school custodians to install. I hope I can bless one my child’s teachers that well someday!

  27. My mom was a Special Education teacher in a low income area, and spent crazy amounts of money on not only her classroom, but on her students personal needs as well. My dad grumbled about it for like a decade. :)

    Like another commenter mentioned, she would buy clothing for her students who were in need (or have it donated, or get a friend from church to mend the clothing the children already had) – usually winter clothes so they could play outside, but there were a few who just didn’t have clothes that were appropriate for school. Sometimes they just needed to be washed. I remember her telling me about a young girl who was constantly fidgeting and long story short, she was wearing underwear that was like four sizes too small.

    My mom and some of the other teachers even pitched in occasionally to help families with utilities or transportation, and at Christmastime they would buy a bunch of holiday gifts for the neediest of the families and the bus driver would deliver giant bags of presents. :)

  28. I taught public school before my own children joined our family. I only taught for two years (one year kindergarten and one year 1st grade) but loved every minute. I often bought supplies for my students out of my own pocket; however, I was a young, single person with very little debt and no one but myself to take care of. I can’t imagine how hard it is when you have a spouse and other family that your income has to support. Thanks for bringing awareness to this!

  29. Makayla Sampson

    Fabulous idea! Thank you for posting about it. Our PTA at my daughter’s elementary school gives our teachers a small stipend for classroom supplies or to use however they need. I doubt if even that is enough. Our PTA also spends thousands in enrichment for our students as well as provides books for our school library. We raise money doing various fundraisers throughout the year, and these usually DO NOT involve the kids going door to door to sell stuff. Our country’s many wonderful teachers and School PTAS/PTOS need support from parents as well as the community!

  30. I am a teacher, was a teacher, will always be a teacher…I’m just not currently teaching in a classroom right now! (: Ha! Currently, I am working at a “non-teaching” job and I routinely spend my own money to keep things going…as most professionals do. Please know, I am not knocking teachers, (remember I was one and still consider myself one) but I did see A LOT of waste (fancy gizmos and decorations that really aren’t necessary…wants vs needs) and that was frustrating! I feel VERY fortunate that I have an hour or so every week to help in the classroom…that way I am able to see with my own eyes what they are lacking and I go and pick something up! For instance, sometimes the pencils are still in good condition but the classroom just needs those cap erasers.
    Even with all that being said…I do feel that teaching is a pretty thankless job! I appreciate so much the time and effort teachers put in to their jobs!!!

    1. completely agree on the waste (fancy gizmos, etc.) and completely agree that there are some costs every professional has upkeep costs…great points.

  31. Hi Gabrielle,
    I appreciate you blogging about this subject because it’s so true! I am a 1st grade teacher. The majority of the supplies in my classroom I purchased myself. The majority of the books in my library I purchased myself. It’s true, we spend more than we should on our students because we know they need these things to fulfill their daily routine and learning. Public school teachers unite!

  32. We always try to donate to our kids’ classrooms — supplies, money, whatever is needed. But, it’s true that we don’t always know when there is a need. I also prefer to just give cash rather than have my kids participate in sales fundraisers. I think the Home Depot project is great! That way, friends and family can work to get these teachers the supplies they need. Makes you wonder where the tax dollars are going?

  33. So glad you shed light on this topic! When I first started teaching I thought for sure I was only spending so much because it was my first year, but the truth is everyone does it! There is just no other way to provide supplies for everyone in your class without it. So kind parents always make a difference.

  34. Thanks for the shout out! As a former special needs teacher, now supervising those classrooms, I know how much money ALL teachers spend out of pocket.
    30 years ago I was buying things out of pocket for my students, now I do the same thing for my teachers and their classrooms.
    It’s a privilege to work with such devoted people who choose to make a quiet difference in the lives of students and their families.
    Part of my role is to support our teachers to navigate these resources, like Office Max and Donors Choose. They have similar projects that REALLY are making a difference!
    The needs are great out there, but with creativity and outside the box thinking, I have to believe we can improve and support public schools and the great teachers that show up each day to teach students.(Now…Working beyond contract hours and through vacations, might be a topic for another day?).
    Thanks!

  35. I love this.

    Although I am currently at home with my own small children, I remember my first year of teaching like it was yesterday.

    I was in a district that provided 100% of the children’s school supplies.
    As a teacher I felt that I had access to a generous amount of learning materials. At back to school night, parent’s often fulfilled items on our wish lists such as extra kleenex, zip lock bags and lysol wipes. Our PTA was highly effective and gave each teacher a $200 gift card to a teacher’s supply store at the beginning of each year. It was an ideal situation.

    One thing I learned though is that sometimes items that a teacher needs do not fit nicely on a “want list”. I remember waking up on the morning of our classroom Halloween party in a panic. It occurred to me very last minute that one of my students would most likely not have a costume in which to participate in the school parade. I remember fretting about it with my mentor teacher who took me to her closet and opened a small box with some costumes sized to fit 4th graders.

    That experience, 2 months into my first year of teaching, made such an impact. Good teachers do and gather and buy, and think of their students (sometimes beyond academia) in many many ways throughout the school year.

  36. My daughter is in kindergarten, so this is my first experience with school supply requests. My daughter’s teacher is brand new, the school added a new kindergarten class this year due to enrollment, so the room parent started off the school year by asking for $20-$25 donations to help the teacher purchase classroom materials. Part of me wondered why the school system doesn’t cover that, but of course I want to help my kid, and I want her teacher to succeed. (You’re inspiring me to go to PTA meetings and ask a few more questions.) I can afford $25 – and I know other students in her class can not. Every week, the teacher includes a column in the e-newsletter to parents, asking for certain items (glue sticks and lysol wipes are regulars). Also, I’m a member of our local Mom’s Club, and we have a philanthropy coordinator, and the Mom’s Club has a relationship with the school, helping provide backpacks/supplies to kids in need every fall. Another topic that bugs me, is that so few parents volunteer in the classroom. I work, but make the time to volunteer one hour a month; it makes all the difference in the world – knowing what my kid is doing, and understanding how to better help the teacher, keeping lines of communication open.

  37. I have been fortunate to teach in a school system that doesn’t have a huge problem with supplies. Don’t get me wrong, our funding has been cur EVERY year just about for the decade that I have been here, but so far we are managing. Our high school students pay a fee for their course materials and some students receive a fee waiver and the school system pays the fee to the department. We still do a fund raiser to help ends meet. Some places I worked, the money was there but it took so much paperwork to get it approved, there were times I was faced with spending my own money and having a plan for the day or waiting and having a room full of students who couldn’t work. So, I spent my money. I am currently considering switching to work in a school that offers an arts magnet, but is located in a very poor part of town. It is MUCH closer to our home and is the school my daughter attends. It would mean a LOT more time with my family, but these financial issues of fewer supplies and a lower salary (this will mean a $10,000 pay cut, ouch!) make it a tough choice… and that’s sad. The kids in the poor neighborhood NEED the good teachers and my family NEEDS me, but I also need financial stability. No answers here, just concern and questions.

  38. My kids classrooms have big supply lists at the beginning of the year, and throughout the year the teachers will include in their weekly email updates: “We’re running low on _____” or “Please ask your child if he or she still has enough pencils” and so on. I generally send in a large pack for him to share with his whole class, but I’ve never given money. I’ve never even thought about it!

  39. As someone who works in schools- every single teacher I have ever worked with invests significant amounts of their own money on school supplies, school books and on basic things like glasses, clothes and food for the students in their classes who need it. This is not to say these schools have no funding at all, but there is always more. And in general, I think teacher’s budgets for their classrooms tend to be eaten up by things like textbooks over pencils.

    This seems like a great program.

  40. Nice highlight Gabby!

    This sounds a lot like Donors Choose.
    http://www.donorschoose.org/

    I go into my kids’ classroom once a week. Ask the teacher if she needs things. For my son’s birthday we gave the class 20 supply boxes, so everyone who didn’t have one now did. And it feels great. I purchased the little Dover activity books for his entire class for Valentine’s Day. The kids loved it. I know not everyone can do this kind of thing, and I’m happy that I am sometimes able to. It is great to help out other kids. :)

  41. Great topic, Gabby, and you have quite a variety of responses.

    In my experience, the public school system doesn’t fully fund education or the needs of the students. So, it is necessary in all schools that the parents chip in – whether through time in the classroom, donations of supplies or other items, or just giving money to the PTA. And, I’m sure the lack of resources is even more extreme in low income neighborhoods.

    My son goes to a public “option” STEM school in a low-income neighborhood. Seating preference is given first to kids who live in the neighborhood. The school also has amazing teachers and a project-based learning approach, so there are a lot of other families who choose this school (which results in a long waiting list every year). So, we have a wide range of economic backgrounds. I am a room parent and I estimabe that about 1/2 of the kids in my son’s 1st grade classroom are low-income (i.e., eligible for FRL). I know that this is not like the 80%-90% seen at other urban schools, but it still illustrates some economic disparity.

    The school has a goal of providing a quality STEM education for all students, despite their economic background. However, our district – like many – does not fully fund the school or educational programs. So, our PTA asks for donations twice a year – a direct give and a school auction. The direct give takes donations of any size (my son gave $5 his year). High-income/high-roller parents come to the auction and buy things like class-made quilts for $1,200.00 (no joke). Through both fundraisers, we raised about $80,000 this year.

    This sounds like a lot, but it only goes so far. The PTA money is used for EVERYTHING. It pays for library books (no kidding), math and science textbooks, lab instruments, phonics curriculum, teacher learning days, before- and after-school program scholarships, field trip scholarships, classroom supplies, art supply closet, uniform closet, etc. These are big ticket items and the money goes quickly.

    Most of the teachers also send out requests for classroom items not funded by the PTA – both at the beginning and throughout the school year. Not surprisingly, the most often requested items in my son’s 1st grade room is leveled readers and snacks. Many low-income kids don’t have access to books at home, so the teacher wants to make sure they have appropriately leveled readers to read at night with their parents. And, many kids come to school hungry (and all the kids are growing), so she ensures that each kid has 2 snacks per day in addition to lunch (and breakfast if they receive FRL).

    STILL, after all the donations from parents, I would guess our teacher spends $100 per month from her own money on her own supplies for art projects she wants to do, books for her library, special paper for the students who like to draw, little “awards” for the grab bag. And, I am certain she spent the Amazon gift card she was given for Christmas on the kids, not herself. She’s a hard-working teacher and loves her students, so doesn’t complain.

    Unlike other readers, I don’t feel tapped out. yet As a member of the PTA (and a room parent), I can see where the district has put its funding priorities, and where it hasn’t. Our PTA is committed to closing the funding and economic gap and ensuring a quality education for all students. But, even with the extra PTA funding, my son’s teacher still has extra classroom needs. I can contribute – so I do – and am grateful my son has access to such a quality education.

  42. My mother-in-law is a 2nd grade teacher at an extremely low-income school in Southern California, just a few miles from the Mexico border. Many of her students disappear for weeks at a time to go back to Mexico and then reappear, to be completely behind all the other students – she essentially has to start over, but she continues to do it every time. She has been teaching these children for 30 years and as her school has abolished most art programs over the years, she has taken her talents and out-of-pocket money to buy a kiln for teaching a pottery class. She has spent hours and hours teaching art masterpiece and used her own resources to give these children opportunities to be creative and learn new things. It’s a shame that we’ve had to get rid of so many good programs in the schools for budget reasons and that these teachers have to use their small incomes to supplement to keep them going.

  43. My husband is a high school teacher in an impoverished urban district. Right before spring break, he had to start bringing in his own reams of paper to make photocopies of his handouts and tests because the school was literally out of paper. He buys supplies for students, gives out lunch money to hungry kids, and we even chipped in on a coat for a student who had none. I’m going to sound like a negative Nellie, but something like that registry isn’t going to help his class. If his kids had aunts, uncles, grandparents with more money, they’d be in a different district.

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