I am not a teacher, but they make up a good part of my inner circle. Both grandmothers, my dad, two of three siblings, a sister and cousin-in-law — hell, my neighbor is even a teacher. (PS — They’re all freaking rockstars!) The point being, back to school shopping has always been two-fold. First, what my daughters need for their classrooms. Second, what all the teachers in my life need for theirs.
Whether it’s decorations to get the kids excited and engaged about new concepts, or basics like dry-erase boards and composition notebooks, parents aren’t the only ones doing back-to-school shopping for students. Now, I know some folks out there think that teachers are super-human. They teach your kids reading, writing, and arithmetic. But they also teach them lessons in kindness and empathy. But let me get this straight, you also want them to moonlight as interior decorators and personal shoppers for your students? I think not.
On top of that, in the age of Covid, anything teachers buy for their classrooms is subjected to a rigorous and harsh cleaning process. Is it fair to ask teachers to buy things for their classrooms that might be damaged? No. No, it is not. One of the many teachers I spoke with just last week about their back-to-school plans mentioned they’d be doing far less this year because any paper materials they brought in had to be laminated to be sanitized.
Do y’all know how expensive lamination is? Truthfully, decorating is one of the last things on some of these teachers’ minds. Other teachers have said they mostly end up buying things like basic school supplies like folders and notebooks, classroom reading books, and of course, snacks.
What Are They Buying?
Every school is different, even within the same school district. Case in point: the school my daughters attend, and two schools that the people closest to me teach at, are all in the same district. Yet, school supply lists don’t seem to be the same. And I’m not talking about elementary versus middle versus high school. No, we’re all at the same level, in the same district — so I assumed most (if not all) of the materials would be the same. Forgive my ignorance.
The school my daughters attend scrap the district supply list almost entirely. Instead, teachers email something separate based on what they’ve already purchased or activities they have planned. Teachers at these other two schools had to laugh when I told them what was on the list. They find themselves buying the basics, like notebooks and folders, but they also buy food to keep in their classroom cupboard because some of their students only eat at school. Other things you can add to their lists are reams of paper for printing (after they’ve run through their allotted amount), mittens, and coats.
Just in case we weren’t clear before, teachers do not double as parents. It’s one thing when a parent forgets to pack something here or there. Hell, I’ve forgotten to send my daughter with a change of shoes on a snowy winter day, but that one-off occasion isn’t what some teachers deal with every day. Some of their students’ most stable time is spent with them in their classrooms.
They have a heated place to go where they are fed and feel safe. Since we’re on an education-related topic, let me throw Maslow’s hierarchy of needs at ya. Teachers know without the basic needs of their students being met, there is no way their teaching can make an impact. Nor will they be able to help them reach their fullest potential. The spending these teachers are doing is way above and beyond what their contract states.
If This is The Expectation, Pay Teachers What They Deserve, Or Get The Hell Out of Here
So here’s a logical thought. Maybe pay these teachers decently? I mean, we all know that no one ever said, hey, you want to be wealthy? Be a teacher. Teachers aren’t in it for the pay. They do it because they are the changemakers who understand the value and importance of education (and have a helluva lot more patience than you and I).
Teachers have long been undervalued and underappreciated. The service they provide to our kids is literally incalculable. Let’s not forget that for the past year and a half, they’ve been expected to teach under absolutely unprecedented circumstances — first scrambling to come up with take-home curriculum as the world shut down, then navigating the shitshow of distance learning, risking their own health to return to the classroom, and juggling the simultaneous needs of both in-person and virtual learners.
If schools are expecting them to do this while educating our kids, feeding them, clothing them, and everything in between, then they’d better pay them enough to be able to do that. Literally, teachers can only claim $250 as an expense on taxes. Are you fucking kidding me? My daughter’s average class size over the past few years has been around 22-25 kids, so for easy math’s sake, let’s say a teacher has an average class size of 25. Twenty-five students and a $250 deduction. Logically, why would teachers spend more than $10 per student during the entire school year? Because they are incredible human beings, who have your children’s education and experience in their classroom front of mind.
This isn’t a new struggle. Teachers have been putting extra time, effort, and money into our kids education for decades. And recently they’ve had to do it all under the grueling strain of a global pandemic. Do you think it’s acceptable? Nope, I don’t either. Find out how government money is being spent at a state and local level. Why are so many teachers being relied on to bridge the gap?
I can’t speak for all parents, but as a parent of school-aged children: teachers, I see you. If there are extra classroom supplies that I can donate, let me know. Want to plan a special classroom activity? Send the email, make the ask. I bet more parents than you realize would be willing to support you. I mean, isn’t that one of the best ways to say thank you for dealing with my child five days a week?
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