Most Philly kids go back to class today. For the last week, I’ve been setting up my classroom and stocking up on supplies. I’ve already spent triple digits, and as I write this piece, I haven’t even met my students yet.
For me, and every teacher I know, this is normal.
Education is one of very few career paths in which employees are not provided with the materials needed to do their job. Teachers and the communities we work in, of course, have no control over the budget, the system that dictates that budget, or the amount of supplies provided to us.
In order to adequately educate kids, we have to pick up the slack, spending on average $500 on our classrooms annually.
And first-year teachers spend significantly more. I easily spent a thousand dollars in my first year on basics like pencils and paper and markers, of course, but also on dictionaries, binders, a hole punch, a pencil sharpener, classroom posters (and absurdly expensive lamination), bulletin board borders, crates and bins, and a projector so my students could see all the lessons I prepared.
Because of the limited resources in many schools, it’s common for teachers to ask parents to provide supplies not just for their own children, but supplies like tissues to be shared with the entire class. It’s helpful to the teacher, who otherwise will be spending even more out of pocket, but community supplies also reinforce sharing and cooperation and give students ownership of their classroom.
Most parents support their children’s teachers and graciously provide these community supplies, but I have to roll my eyes at the parents I’ve seen posting about greedy overpaid teachers having the nerve to ask for some glue sticks and pencils.
We don’t expect a family to contribute if they are not financially able, but if you are in a position to help, the gesture never goes unnoticed.
No one has a stronger belief in a child’s right to a free, quality education than public schoolteachers. But, unfortunately, we often have to rely on the generosity of others to be able to provide the best education we can.
The district has improved since I joined in 2012.
That year, we were allotted one ream of copy paper per month, an average of four to five sheets per student. I learned to fit four quizzes on one sheet of paper and watched as teachers had breakdowns if the copier jammed and ate individual sheets. The first gift I ever received from my boyfriend was a box of copy paper. I was thrilled!
My colleagues and I have relied on crowdfunding to make ends meet. Our engineering teacher raised money on DonorsChoose last year to buy a robot kit and enter our students in a robotics competition. We crowdfund to defray the cost of field trips so our kids can experience the world outside the classroom. English teachers raise the money to buy class sets of novels for their students. Science teachers raise money for labs and experiments.
Resources are not as scant as they were a few years ago, but we have a long way to go, and our schools still need help.
When students attend a school that cannot meet their basic needs, they do not see the value of an education. There is a noticeable difference in students when they know they are adequately provided for. They are motivated to learn, they do their homework, and they care about their grades. They believe they can succeed — and they do.
Any help we can get makes the quality of the education we provide better. If you can afford to send your child to school with supplies to share, please do. If you can’t, I promise a teacher will make sure your child has what he or she needs anyway.
Jan Cohen teaches Spanish at Kensington High School. This is her sixth year teaching in Philadelphia.