Whether for stickers, markers, a meal on a field trip, books or even shoes, teachers say they regularly dip into their own pockets to help their students.
The average teacher spent more than $400 in 1994-1995, according to a survey of public school teachers released by the National Education Association at its annual meeting.
The amount doesn’t surprise Rosenda Thomas, a third-grade teacher in Oakland, Calif. “A good book is going to cost about $12.95,” she said. “Then you might go to the store and say, OK, I need some stickers. A nice pack may be $4.95 … You do that without thinking about that.”
Though stickers and even a few treats may seem like luxuries, they’re morale boosters that keep children motivated. “We’re in the classroom all day with these kids,” she said. “We’re happy, they’re happy.”
And there’s no way for the official school supply masters to keep up with the hands-on projects that consume the school year, from keeping silkworms and aquariums to baking cookies for the holidays.
Jeff Wood, a fifth-grade teacher from Lansing, Mich., says he easily spends more than a $1,000 a year of his own money. Otherwise, his pupils would be learning from 20-year-old textbooks and ancient visual aids. In an age of video, the school stocks old film strips with the accompanying sound on vinyl disk.
“The materials themselves are outdated and inadequate and inaccurate - and nonmotivational,” he said. “If you want literate children, you have to have a print-rich environment around them.”
Wood buys books that give more than a “white-man-only view of history.” He buys artifacts like musketballs and pieces of pottery. He buys prints for the classroom walls.
Like other teachers, Wood knows which kids can’t afford the lunch during field trips or bus fare for special outings, so he buys rather than see the child excluded. He pays for rewards, including paperbacks for kids who finish all the books they pledge to read.
Some school districts give teachers a discretionary allowance. In Lansing, it’s $100, Wood said. Oakland teachers gave up their $350 allowance in the last contract, Thomas said. Parents also raise money for classroom materials.
But other school teachers work where parents can hardly supply clothing, shoes, eyeglasses.
“It’s hard to work with kids day in, day out, and see them needing the basics in life,” said Vicky Greenberg, a sixth-grade teacher in Branford, Conn., and president of the 300-member local union.
After paying out of pocket, the teachers decided six years ago to create a fund that raises money with raffles and other activities. The teachers spot a child in need and get in touch with a parent to get the child’s size or other details. The fund gives a check to the parent so the child doesn’t know it’s charity.
In one case that Greenberg remembers, the fund bought a school jacket for a girl whose mother had just been forced to move into a trailer home with her two children.
The child had been the only one in her class without a jacket.