What It Costs To Be A Teacher

A teacher's job includes scouring Goodwill and garage sales

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No more pencils, no more books could be the refrain of the nation's teachers as they dig ever deeper to prepare their classrooms. Or as the meme puts it: "Teaching is one of the only jobs where you steal supplies from home to bring to work!"

Toughest hit are the first-year teachers who walk into a classroom that may have chairs and desks, but little in the way of basic supplies. We polled teachers in the Facebook Badass Teachers Association and the topic struck a nerve. (Here's another view on back-to-school costs for teachers.)

"It does seem teachers are spending more than ever due to budget cuts, and fundraising to get what they need for their kids," says Marla Kilfoyle, a high school teacher in Oceanside NY, and an administrator of the BAT, which has more than 50,000 members from across the country. "Teachers seem to be spending $500 - $1,000 for supplies. It depends on where they work -- teachers in poverty districts seem to be spending more.

"Look at the popularity of Donorschoose.org - why do we need that?" Kilfoyle adds, referring to the crowdsourced Internet fundraising site.

Teachers post that while they've been buying their own supplies forever, there's an added sting this year because even the modest tax deduction has expired.

It's not just teachers in high poverty districts who are affected.

"I'm one of the lucky ones," posted one teacher, "because my district allows us $250 a year for supplies. Unfortunately, I teach 95 - 105 students, 180 days a year, so that doesn't go terribly far. Although I teach in an extremely affluent district, I still spend $1,000 - $2,000 a year on supplies. Why? Because we are only permitted to work with certain vendors, who only carry certain items/books/supplies.

"When I see something I know my kids can benefit from (erasable highlighters being the latest odd little example)," she adds, "I can either A) wait 6-8 months for the state and district-sanctioned vendors to start carrying them or B) buy my kids what will work for them right now. Since I've only got one shot to make seventh grade count for the kids I teach right now, I spend my own money."

Adds another teacher in a high-poverty Chicago school: "I spent about $1,000 in work-related costs. $250 of those were direct classroom supply -- the rest were books, paper/ink supplies. We get a $100 stipend as reimbursement but it's added to our paycheck and taxed as income."

"Both my husband and I teach in a large funding-starved city school district in Pennsylvania," one teacher writes. "I've taught first and second grade and he's done both Autism Support and Life Skills. Between us we spend at LEAST $3,500 per year on our students. The money goes toward basic school supplies, food (snacks and extra breakfasts because many of the kids hate the crappy free food), field trip money for kids that have trouble paying for them, clothing (coats, sweaters, uniform shirts, gloves ... I even bought a kid socks because he kept coming to school in the winter without them) and prizes to support our classroom management systems.

"I still wouldn't teach anywhere else though," she adds.

More than a half million new K-12 and post-secondary teaching jobs are projected to be created by the year 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, along with 90,000+ non-classroom posts ranging from administration to counseling. (See current education job listings here.)

Yet even counselors are not immune. One supplies the tissues for a department that serves 1,400 students.

First-year teachers are hit especially hard, but this is not a new development. Those in the elementary grades report scouring Goodwills and other low-cost sources to build required classroom reading libraries.

"My first year, my classroom was bare except for chairs and desks .... and a paper cutter! I asked for supplies and the principal said, 'Payday is a week away!' " recalls one 16-year veteran teacher who has purchased furniture, books, teacher resources and more over the course of her career.

"There would be just a skeleton of a classroom should I leave and take what I personally paid for," she adds. Her school allots $200 for classroom materials, which is mainly used to make copies. She goes through that in the first marking period.

Still, 32 percent of Americans have considered a career in teaching according to a December 2013 survey from Harris Interactive for Kaplan University's School of Graduate Education. It just launched Virtual Advisor, an online tool to help college graduates chart the best path to convert their experience and degrees into career opportunities in education.

Still, the sacrifice is real. One single parent who makes $55,000 a year had to move her kids out of their home because they could no longer afford to live there.

"We are vilified often but are the first to champion the kids we teach," she adds. "Find another 'white collar' profession that people will stay in with pay freezes, pension and medical roulette and constant public criticism. That's your story. Not what I'm willing and happy to do for my students."

"I have averaged about $1,000 per year for the last 29 years," says a veteran teacher. "When my financial planner heard that, he asked, incredulously, 'Do you have any idea of the lost opportunity costs associated with that? I replied with equal incredulousness, 'You mean I could have been investing that $1,000 each year in my future? Oh, wait ... I was!"

As another teacher put it: "Yeah, the costs are high but the payoffs are freakin' amazing."

> More on What Back to School Costs Teachers

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My mother was a teacher, back in the day. When I was in elementary levels, everything (seriously) was provided by the school. But now, not so much. However, if teachers are hurting, then why, when I called two schools in my district as well as a private school in another, wanting to buy things for the kids..with my money..deliver said items to school, was I told that there was no need? I even tried donating my piano (in good shape with concert tone, upright, offer to pay professionals to move it and retune if necessary) all I heard were crickets on the phone? Frankly I was insulted. I still pay taxes for schooling other peoples children, though I put all three of mine thru school, college and some post grad work too, long ago. The only school that was interested in anything was the private school and they wanted cash! Don't whine about everyone not having crayons, if you don't want some help.

August 25 2014 at 2:01 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Teachers who spend their own money for supplies are the *CREAM OF THE CROP*..... it is sad that our country has gotten to this point in the education of our children.......The FUTURE of our country. There is something which is really WRONG with this picture. What is wrong with the lawmakers who are making the decisions ? Schools need supplies and certainly BOOKS for certain so that children can get a good education. It seems that there is MORE MONEY BEING SPENT FOR PRISIONERS than it is for our school children. PERHAPS this is a HUGE SIGN....and to think there are INNOCENT PEOPLE who are indicted, tried and CONVICTED for crimes that they are NOT GUILTY OF.

August 24 2014 at 8:18 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

America spends more money on education than any other country. Teacher salaries by far make up the largest portion of expenditures.
Take a look at the results.

August 24 2014 at 4:41 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to SweetfeetBaby's comment

You don't even have a CLUE what you are talking about.
First, as far as the results of the education system: The BIGGEST influence on whether a child succeeds in school or not is whether the PARENT(S) invest in their child's education - by spending the time to read to a child, and make sure that they do their homework (monitoring them, not just asking and accepting their reply) and with their own attitude towards education (does that parent say things like "those teachers are worthless", like you are, or do they say "you WILL make good grades because that is your future"?). Too many parents expect the school to be a nanny as well as an educational outlet, and do nothing to make sure their kid is getting the most out of it by making it a priority. The child's attitude is a reflection of the parent's. I can lead a child to all the knowledge in the world, but if that kid is more interested in texting his buddies, sleeping in class, skipping class, or getting high, then he's not going to learn anything - but it's not for lack of trying. Yet I, as a teacher, am still held accountable for those kids not learning.

Teaching is one of the lowest paid jobs requiring a minimum of a bachelor's degree and a continuing certification, except perhaps in a few very lucky states. In addition, in my state, I only get paid for the 9 months I am "officially" on the clock - but I spend over HALF of my summer working on school-related activities for which I do not get paid. I spend ALL my weekends and holidays working on grading and lesson plans during the school year. My husband makes 4 times my salary, but works only half the time, because when he comes home, he's OFF work, and when I do get home I have piles of work to do still. That doesn't count all the school activities I go to to support my students. In addition, in my state, I am required to submit 7.5% of my salary to a pension fund, AND the 7.5% to Social Security (one does not replace the other). And then there are the supplies I purchase for school. I just spent about $125 buying used paperbacks for a novel I need to teach but which my district doesn't have enough books to distribute to all the classes, for example. And then, after all that, I get to listen to people like you denigrating my abilities and competence.

Maybe you should take the time to do some research before spouting off "sound bites" that you don't even understand.

August 24 2014 at 10:47 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

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