Brian Pallister the Manitoba premier was taken to task last week for offering teachers a 15% tax credit for the first $1000 they spend on their classrooms. Many teachers were insulted saying if education was properly funded by Mr. Pallister’s government it wouldn’t be necessary for teachers to spend their own money on supplies to enrich the education program they offer to students.
I was a teacher for 35 years and can attest to the fact that I spent a great deal of my own money to stock my classroom. 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, books and courses.
As a high school teacher I bought a huge coffee maker and started brewing coffee and baking muffins to lure late sleepers to my first classes of the day. I invested in magazine subscriptions and bought hundreds of used books for my classroom to entice my teenagers to read for pleasure. I never kept track of how much money I spent on my students. It would have been too scary.
The phenomena of teachers spending their own money on their classrooms is not unique to Manitoba. A recent survey in Nova Scotia showed the average teacher there invested some $500 a year in their classroom and American teachers were more likely to invest double that.
A Huffington Post article points out that the pandemic has upped the ante for many teachers who have invested their own money in all kinds of upgrades to their technology to make teaching from home or online more effective for their students.
One thing that concerned me as a university education department mentor was how much money my students were investing in their practicum teaching assignments in schools. My students paid for printing costs for learning games, mittens for kids, books to read to students, costumes for plays, writing journals, prizes for contests, art supplies and one junior high physical education teacher bought deodorant for the students who needed it. Most of my university students were already struggling to make ends meet and were working at part time jobs to cover their tuition costs. They couldn’t really afford to be investing money in the classrooms where they were interning.
During the years I was teaching in Manitoba I never got a dime in tax credit for the money I spent on my classroom and most people were shocked to learn how much of my personal coin I was doling out. Mr. Pallister’s recent statement at least recognizes that teachers are investing their own dollars in their students and he is giving teachers some compensation for that investment. But it is not something he should be encouraging teachers to do because in an adequately funded education system teachers wouldn’t find it necessary to spend nearly as much of their own money.
About twenty years ago Time Magazine ran a feature called Teacher Can You Spare a Dime which talked about all the money teachers spend on their classrooms and what could be done to change that. It appears that in the last two decades nothing has.