Guest Blogger: Cait Clark
$500. This is the approximate amount of money that I spent on my classroom this past school year. Although I am lucky my district provides a supply check each August, it is no secret that teachers spend much of their own money to purchase items for their classroom. Unless you have been a teacher, it is truly hard for anyone to understand the amount of their own money teachers spend on their classrooms each and every year.
At the beginning of each school year I, along with many others in the teaching profession, rush to the Back to School section at every school supply store we enter in order to stock up on basic supplies. We know this is the best time of the year to buy items with notebooks as cheap as 10 cents each, crayons for 25 cents per pack, folders for a penny, and packs of pencils for 50 cents. It’s practically Christmas for teachers.
After teaching for three years (two in first grade and one in Kindergarten), this school year I thought I was brilliant. I decided to purchase a pencil pouch for each student and fill it with things they need for the year. Each student would be responsible for keeping up with his or her own pouch. If something went missing from their pouch, they would have to replace it. I was going to make it last all year. But, I was so wrong.
The stockpile that I built for my students and myself at the beginning of the school year didn’t last beyond Christmas (as is the case every year). I can say it was because my students misplaced items in their pencil pouches or I can accept the truth. I work in a primary school where each of these supplies are used all day, every day. Sadly, there is not an infinite supply of crayons, glue sticks rarely last more than a week, and an eraser does not last as long as the pencil. No matter the reason, I found myself stocking up once again. The price of these basic supplies adds up, and that’s only the beginning of the story. There is so much more that teachers buy for their class that many don’t think about.
Let’s talk about books. Teachers are often buying current, high interest books–preferably hardback books because softbacks don’t last in a primary classroom. At approximately $17 each, this cost adds up quickly.
And I can’t forget to mention snacks. I feel like I buy snacks for my classroom every time I go to the store. Popcorn, chips, crackers, fruit snacks, granola, and pretty much anything that my students love to eat. I always make sure I have something for my students to snack on.
Supplies, books, and snacks only begin to the scratch the surface of items many teachers buy for their students. It is not unusual for a teacher to purchase basic necessities such as underwear, socks, and changes of clothes–all things I keep a regular stockpile of in my classroom. After all, I cannot expect a student to focus on learning if their basic needs are not fulfilled.
When teachers explain what they spend out of their own pockets many ask one simple, yet very complex question. Why?
Truth is, I will never be able to put a price on what I do.
My student’s faces light up when they get that pencil pouch in their hands on the first day of school. They have joy beyond measure when they realize it is theirs to keep and use for the entire school year. I happily shop for school supplies knowing how they will feel. I’m also filled with excitement when I purchase a new book, show it to my students, and they beg me to read it right away.
Then there is the sense of security my students receive if they were rushing to the bus and didn’t have time to put on socks, but they have a pair waiting as soon as they get to school. Or the embarrassment that is avoided if they have an accident and I am able to provide a change of clothes so they don’t have to wait for someone to bring them one.
All of the supplies, books, snacks, and basic necessities I purchase for my classroom are continuously supporting a good cause: our children and their future. I work to ensure they have the necessary tools to achieve all they can achieve, even if it means I need to buy the supplies for them. If given the right tools, my students will have the world in their hands and that is PRICELESS.
Cait Clark is a first grade teacher at Bennettsville Primary School and a Teach For America-South Carolina alum.