Sunday, May 24, 2009

How much did you spend in your classroom?

Originally created 6/30/08

Every year around the middle of August, the teacher discussion boards buzz with numbers, lists, and ways to find bargains on carpet squares and border paper. Otherwise sane professionals throw these numbers and lists and hints around, on the one hand looking for ways to save money, but on the other hand straining to show their devotion to their students. We teachers have the strange idea that, in order to truly care, we must make the $250 tax credit become a laughable portion of what we actually spend.

During my first few years of my career, I was unjustly required to purchase most of my own classroom supplies. Technically, the secretary provided essential items, like staples and chalk, but the glares I received when asking for these items, much less paper, post-it notes, or, when I was feeling extremely greedy, an extra pair of scissors, almost gave me nightmares. I became a bandit, a street urchin, sneaking paper from the copy room and begging scissors from the librarian. I picked up pencils off the floor and almost lost control when a kid swiped my post-its.

As frustrating as it was to have to scrimp and hoard, the situation was actually a symptom of a bigger disease. At that school, teachers were not valued and their voices were not heard. That job wore me down and, to quote another teacher I know, killed my spirit.

Now, I'm in a school where people listen to each other. If I need a box of staples, or border paper, or anything else, I walk to the office. If it's not there, I ask for it, and it arrives in an Office Depot order the next day. The admin. assistant doesn't count our copies or limit our pens; she trusts us to be responsible adults and avoid wasting resources. Interestingly enough, this is also a school where teachers' voices are heard and we are valued as professional educators.

If teachers are truly spending $1,000 or more, there are two distinct possibilities. First, as I've outlined above, the school doesn't value teachers enough to give them basic supplies and a few extras. The second possibility could irritate some people.

On the aforementioned discussion boards, many teachers are purchasing items that, quite frankly, may not be necessary. Does a classroom really need professionally printed attendance cards? Perfectly coordinated bulletin board items? Customized sticky notes? Yes, a teacher can improve a classroom by adding personal touches, but if someone is spending that much time and money (and broadcasting it on chatboards), they may need to take a second look at their teaching strategies. The classroom environment is important, but it shouldn't make up for a lack of security or competence. Instead of creating huge printing orders and spending hours looking for stuff, we need to create quality lessons, respond to our students' needs, and advance the profession through research and collaboration. We can show our devotion to our students without depleting our savings accounts.

If your school does not support you, speak up. If it can't provide you with the materials you need, improvise or do without. If you don't have better ways to spend your time and money, become an interior decorator.

Update 5/24/09: we had an unsupportive principal this year. This person had many problems, the least of which...of course...the desire to count our copies and limit our supplies. Someday I'll have to write more about the connection between supporting teachers and providing the supplies they need.

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