Teacher Can You Spare A Dime?

This last week I was at schools observing and assessing the student teachers I supervise.  As the young woman in the first class I visited got a copy of her lesson plan out of her school bag I saw it was full of new mittens, hats and scarves. I asked her about them. “It snowed last week and was so cold. I noticed lots of the kids weren’t dressed properly when they went out for recess so I bought them some things,” she said. 

In the next classroom the student teacher had a brand new book she was reading to the kids. When I asked her about it later she told me she’d bought it at the book store because the school didn’t have any books on her lesson topic. This  student teacher had printed up hundreds of tiny colored pictures on her own computer with her own paper to create a math learning game for her students. 

Student teacher number three had brought her personal computer to school to present a slide show for her math lesson because the class didn’t have a lap top computer. She was paying up to $15 a day for parking because the school couldn’t make room for her in their parking lot, despite the fact she was donating dozens of hours of her time each week to coach one of their volleyball teams. 

One junior high teacher had bought deodorant for her students who really needed it after gym class. She had a table full of props and samples she had purchased as a way to illustrate her science lesson on optics. In that same junior high school another teacher introduced her poetry unit by handing out poetry journals to each student. You guessed it! She’d bought them herself. And so it went with each student I visited. They’d brought in art supplies, prizes, books and all kinds of things.

It reminded me of my own teaching career. When I taught elementary school I bought rugs, pillows, puzzles, bookshelves, magazine racks, charts, toys, maps, math manipulatives, puppets and hundreds of books for my classroom. I even had a sand table custom-built. I bought food stuffs for baking projects, gifts for children at Christmas, stickers, craft supplies and in the age before digital photography paid for film and developing hundreds of photos each year.  In one school I kept granola bars and other breakfast items in my cupboards for kids who weren’t getting breakfast at home. I also paid for professional conferences and professional books and education courses I took.  

I never kept track of how much I spent because it would have been too scary and I couldn’t claim it for a tax credit, even if I had kept track. According to this document  while anyone can claim a tax credit for professional expenses in order to do so; their employer must sign a form agreeing that those monies were indeed spent. School divisions refuse to do this because they say teachers are not required to spend their own money on their classrooms; they choose to do so. 

Teacher Can You Spare A Dime was the title of a Time Magazine article about teachers spending money on their classrooms. It was also the headline for a feature story in the Toronto Globe and Mail in 2002. Investigative reporter Jan Wong interviewed teachers in Ontario, and did research nation wide, to find out exactly how much of their own money Canadian educators spent on their classrooms each year.  $180 million was her conservative estimate. Although the average teacher was ‘out of pocket’  $600 annually, Wong had no difficulty finding educators who were investing  $2000  a year in supplies for their students. 

Businesses are well aware teachers are willing to spend their own money on students. Some office supply stores, have special aisles just for educators, which hold some five hundred different products for classroom use. Jan Wong interviewed one Staples manager who offered a five percent discount to educators because they were such good customers.

I was a little disheartened to discover that in the last decade or so nothing has changed when it comes to teachers investing financially in their classrooms. Teachers still do not receive compensation for their outlay of personal funds.  My student teachers are supposed to be learning what the real world of teaching is like. I guess they are. They are realizing that being a teacher means you have to be willing to invest more than time and effort into your career. You need to invest a fair bit of your own money too. 

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