Education, learning

#EvaluateThat: The Hidden Cost of Teaching

Chances are you’ve heard of Teresa Danks, the Oklahoma teacher who recently resorted to panhandling at a local gas station near her home in order to buy needed supplies for her third grade classroom. After collecting approximately $50 in cash and then posting a meme of herself on Facebook, Teresa caught the attention of a local news station, who goaded her into doing it again (with cameras rolling, natch), helping her raise an additional $50.

While there is a lot to unpack in this story–from the “newsworthiness” of a middle-class white woman panhandling in the South to the spectacle that was created from the news station accompanying her on a second curbside jaunt–this so-called “story” isn’t actually news to most classroom teachers, who, on average, spend anywhere from $400-$500 annually on supplies, books, and materials from their own pockets. One source estimates that, nationally, over $1.6 billion in costs–which include everything from tissues, to tape, to texts (not to mention healthy snacks and water for our neediest students)–are absorbed by professional teachers who are alternatively billed as “overpaid” or “underpaid,” depending on who you listen to.

But we only work weekdays from 8-3, after all! We have our summers off!

Yeah. OK. So tell me…when do you think we buy all this shit? And more importantly, what of those who cannot afford to supplement their meager school/classroom budgets with out-of-pocket expenses? Whose students consequently have fewer books to choose from, fewer materials to explore and experiment with, and who lack the privilege of “flexible seating?”

Look. There’s a lot I can say about the hidden costs of being a classroom teacher–both financial and emotional–but you can find plenty of think pieces that already exist on the subject on the web. (This 1993 piece from Educational Leadership offers a good starting place.) My aim here is to show some of those costs–the former kind, anyway–with a photo slideshow that I’m hoping to add to as more and more colleagues send me their pics. This is not meant to be used as a way to garner sympathy, or to perpetuate the “teacher-as-martyr” trope, but simply to tell one of those stories that, far too often, remain untold outside the world of education.

What do you spend out-of-pocket in order to provide your students with the supplies, books, and materials they need, and how does this impact you? Alternatively, what does your classroom look like as a result of not being able to afford to spend hundreds of dollars out-of-pocket each year? Shoot me a pic* on Twitter (@shawnacoppola), and I’ll add it to the slideshow. (Thank you to those who have already shared their pics!)


*PLEASE NOTE–for those of you sending pics of what you’ve purchased out-of-pocket: I don’t want to see the actual shit you buy (e.g., useless stuff like inspirational posters and sticker charts)…I’m more interested in the stuff you acquire that helps your students learn. 😉 Thanks!

Like what you’ve read here? Check out my debut book from Stenhouse Publishers, Renew! Become a Better–and More Authentic–Writing Teacher, which you can preview in its entirety here. I am donating 50% of my royalties for the first year of publication to 826 National, a wonderful organization that provides opportunities for children who live in traditionally underserved populations to explore their creativity and improve their writing skills.  

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