Teachers Change Lives

April 7, 2014

Teachers Change Lives

By Gabrielle. This post is brought to you by Office Depot’s #TeachersChangeLives program. Register your child’s classroom, so the students have the school supplies they need to succeed.

Can we talk some more about public schools today? They’re on my mind. Last month a vacuum was unexpectedly delivered to my house (long story, I’ll tell you about it another time). While it’s always fun to get a surprise in the mail, the vacuum sat unopened in a box for many days while I figured out what to do with it. Why? Because we don’t need a new vacuum — the one we had when we lived in Colorado still works just fine.

Happily, Betty brought home a class newsletter that mentioned her teacher was looking for a vacuum for their classroom. Bingo! I dropped the brand new vacuum off at her classroom the next day, glad it could benefit dozens of kids for many years to come.

But the experience had me thinking. If I hadn’t had that vacuum sitting in a box by the front door, would I have even noticed that request on the newsletter? (Answer: I highly doubt it.)

At the start of the year, our teachers in New York, Colorado, France and now California, had students bring in school supplies, plus some general classroom supplies too — like tissue boxes and hand soap. I think this is pretty typical and I imagine that if you have school age kids you have experienced the same thing.

In New York and Colorado, that was basically it as far as school supplies went. We never really had further requests from teachers. I’m not talking about class parties or special events, I’m referring to the everyday school supplies — folders, pencils, markers, erasers, paper, etc..

But here in Oakland, it’s been a little different. Some teachers have sent home additional requests throughout the year via class newsletters or emails. Things like sticky notes, permanent markers, more tissue boxes, more pencils. Of course, we try to keep an eye out for the requests and try to remember to send materials in — and I know many families at our school try to as well. But sometimes I forget. Or sometimes I assume another family has taken care of it. Or sometimes I just don’t make time.

AAC Infographic-3

And the reality is, even if I don’t want to face it, that many of those school supply requests aren’t met. And that means teachers often end up spending from their own pockets. Which should not be happening! But surveys tell us this is so common that at this point, it’s almost ridiculous. For those of you who like stats and numbers, try these on:

- Teachers spend as much as $1000 out of their own pockets on materials for their classrooms, every year.
- 75% of all classroom supplies are bought by teachers.
- Nationally, teachers spend a total of $1.3 billion a year on classroom supplies.
- 15 Million school children come from improvised families that cannot even provide basic supplies that children need to succeed in school.

Shocking, right? So I’ve been wondering how I could be more helpful. Or somehow make it more straightforward. Then Office Depot sent me an email about their Teachers Change Lives program and a I had another Bingo! moment. Clearly, I’m not the first person who noticed this problem. There’s a great program already in place! Public schools across America are having a hard time. Funding for supplies has been cut. And teachers often make up the difference from their own pockets. So Office Depot has partnered with Adopt a Classroom, and they are helping teachers across the country.

It’s a super smart program. Basically, your child’s teacher can register his or her classroom, then the community (parents of students, aunts & uncles, even grandparents who live out of state) funds the classroom, and those who donate receive updates on their impact!

To highlight this program Office Depot & Adopt a Classroom are featuring the stories of educators throughout the U.S. that go above and beyond in the classroom. These stories range from teachers in underprivileged and underfunded schools, to teachers that take innovation in the classroom to the next level, and everything in between. With teachers already doing so much with so little, think how much more they could do with support from the community. Go here and scroll down to see all the videos — they’re really well done, they had me in tears!

Did you watch that? I mean come one. Mary Kurt-Mason should not have to pay for school supplies from her own pocket! You can make a difference by visiting the Teachers Change Lives page. In fact, all of the teachers shown in the videos are registered with Adopt A Classroom. So you can donate to their classroom, or you can donate to a teacher in your own life, or even to the cause as a whole.

And now I’d love to hear, what’s it like at your school? Do teachers make school supply requests of parents? Do you feel like the statistics I listed above are accurate for your community? Have you ever heard of Adopt-A-Classroom? Is your child’s classroom registered? And if you’re a teacher, let us know how often, if ever, you find yourself buying school supplies for your classroom.

P.S. — I care a lot about this topic (maybe because my dad was a public school teacher) and want to encourage conversation and awareness about it, so here’s some extra motivation: add to the conversation below, and I’ll randomly pick one commenter and personally make a $150 donation to their child’s classroom!

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1 Jen H April 7, 2014 at 4:21 pm

This is neat! My sons Kindergarten teacher is amazing. I would love for her to win this. I always wonder how much the teachers do pay for things themselves.


2 Danielle April 7, 2014 at 4:28 pm

I like in mid-Missouri and work at an elementary school as a facilitator (I work one-on-one with a kid with special needs). I’ve been hired to teach second grade at the same school next year. I don’t know the exact numbers, but my district does have a decent percentage of kiddos who can’t afford fall’s school supplies (or breakfast, lunch, etc.). We have boxes to hand out to those kiddos. I think there’s a little bit of paperwork involved for the parents re: income, but it’s minimal. Since I haven’t had my own classroom yet, I don’t know the full extent to which teachers buy supplies for their own classroom, but there’s so much that might not even occur to parents–Classroom libraries come out of teacher’s pockets. I’m trying to load up on books for next year, and I’ll be going to Salvation Army and garage sales hoping to find some because, yikes, I need a few hundred books! Classroom decor, special treats, and, yes, soooooo many pencils are usually bought with the teacher’s own money. Teachers occasionally put a note in their weekly newsletters about needing pencils or tissues, but most parents in our school’s area either aren’t involved enough to read those requests or can’t afford to help much.


3 Marissa April 7, 2014 at 4:33 pm

I loved the vacuum story! I was actually one of your dad’s students in 6th grade. :) Teachers are amazing!


4 Sadie April 7, 2014 at 4:35 pm

Thank you for this! As a special education teacher, especially my first few years of teaching (when I was building up a classroom) I spent thousands of dollars out of pocket for my classroom. I have many students who are homeless, have special needs parents themselves, and are living in severe poverty. I am forever thankful for my community because through posts on NextDoor, Freecycle and Craigslist we are able to get them clothes and supplies that they need at home. Until you are in these schools working with these families you don’t realize how many are still slipping through the cracks.


5 amyb April 7, 2014 at 4:43 pm

This post got me thinking about the post you wrote in the fall about public HS in Oakland. I think you where going to do something similar about the elementary/middle school. Did I miss it? I am so interested. I live in an urban area with not great schools and spend a small fortune on private. Would love to hear more about your experience.

PS if this comment wins please select another I’d rather it went to a public school.


6 jen April 7, 2014 at 4:46 pm

we live in oakland too and parents are asked to provide money as well as donations for classroom supplies, everything from paper towels, to snacks, , rugs, etc… wondering if your kids schools have had their yearly auctions. that’s also a big part of public education, the private fundraising involved to raise money to provide classes such as art, music, pe!


7 ha April 8, 2014 at 10:37 pm

Auctions often seem like a good idea for those who can afford to go and pay for vacations in Tahoe, instant wine cellars, etc. However, auctions can be incredibly divisive in truly diverse school communities as they highlight the difference between the haves and the have nots, and this creates resentment. Schools that hold successful auctions in Oakland raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for children who are not actually needy, because they are not poor–their parents are people who have hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend at an auction). They then use this money to pay for necessities, but also to pay for things like professional lice-pickers who come monthly, and computer carts that sit unused, while in the same district, down the hill, poor schools struggle to pay for adequate lunchtime supervision or a one-day-a-week librarian. Schools with high percentages of low-income students cannot hold auctions because they a) are unable to have parents and the community donate high-value items (because they don’t have time-shares in Maui) and b) don’t have families who can pay for high-value items, because they are not rich. No schools should have to have auctions. Our government should fund public schools adequately, no matter where they are located. I wish the rich families holding auctions would use their expertise and power to lobby Sacramento to fully fund ALL public schools. Think about how much time and energy we would have if the burden of fundraising was lifted from public school parents, and placed back on society as a whole. We all benefit from a well-educated public!


8 susannah April 12, 2014 at 5:18 pm

i, too, live in oakland, and my oldest daughter is in kinder at a public oakland school. i have contributed as i can to her school and classroom, and it isn’t a hills school, but not a flatlands school either. there is no way my nieghborhood school (i live in east oakland and that school is one block away but my daughter goes to a middle of the road school through options process and bc of her hearing loss) anyway, i wish our oakland schools did what san leandro schools do! pool any money raised to be distributed equally to level the playing field. it would take a whole lot of work to happen, bc then wealthier schools would lose a lot of resources and would have to share them. but i often wrestle with the “extras” our school has: garden, science, art, etc that my school one block away does not. that school doesn’t even have a pta. it is supported through my neighborhood group, but few of the parents are involved. it seems like an ongoing problem here, and my heart breaks for schools where there is so little additional money for supplemental basics! i do think one solution is for more families to STAY in the public school system in our district and work/advocate towards change instead of leaving for private or charter schools. what if we all stayed and invested? it would change this district. (i recognize that our child is not in our neighborhood school which is one of the issues in oakland, but if she was not deaf then we would’ve likely strongly considered sending her there.) and gabrielle- to answer your question, all of my siblings and my mom are teachers and they ALL put so much money into their classrooms! Such generous hearts.


9 Sara April 7, 2014 at 4:46 pm

This sounds like a great program!! I had not heard of it, but had often thought about the likely need even though teachers at my children’s school only do the typical beginning-of-the-year requests. I always try to pick up extras to donate to my kids’ teachers then (when the school supplies are all on sale everywhere!), and to a nearby university that collects school supplies along with hats and gloves every winter.

I actually wish that our teachers had a public wish list on the school website or something, or did send notes home…I would like to donate more when I could, but it is definitely one of those things that slip off the radar most of the year.


10 Elaine April 7, 2014 at 4:50 pm

This sounds like a great program! My teacher friends have had good luck with a similar website called Donors Choose – so nice to see strangers supporting teachers!


11 Julia April 7, 2014 at 4:54 pm

We use sign up genius. A request comes out about once a month. Title 1 school in Brooklyn. And the classroom needs are always ALWAYS met by parents. You have to rush to snag a donation or they’re all gone.


12 Sarah April 7, 2014 at 5:01 pm

I taught in a public school in Durham, North Carolina for 3 years. We had an extremely meager budget each year and I spent a good amount of my own money to buy everything from books to pencils to snacks for kids who didn’t have any.

With all the things we ask of our teachers, this shouldn’t be one of them.


13 Jennifer R. April 7, 2014 at 5:09 pm

What a wonderful program. My husband and I are both high school art teachers in the same school district and while we have a generous budget we still purchase lots of items for both of our classrooms. We also try to actively support our son’s school/classroom (he is in second grade) by doing the same things that you mentioned: picking up extra items on sale, sending in extra wipes throughout the year to his art teacher, etc. You can check us out at http://www.facebook.com/shhsart


14 Amy Ferguson April 7, 2014 at 5:12 pm

I actually don’t have a child in school but my husband teaches 5th grade and i can personally attest to how much we spend on school supplies. He is always purchasing folders, notebooks, pencils, storage supplies. It’s really endless in some ways. Thank you so much for bringing attention to this!


15 Siobhan April 7, 2014 at 5:12 pm

I loved this teacher’s story! I especially love that her program is called “Special Talents” vs. Special Needs! I am a pediatric physical therapist in the Chicago area and spend about $1,000 annually for my patients in the clinic (or my students in the schools when I worked in a school.) I buy everything from diapers to winter coats plus specialized equipment that I think might be outside of a family’s budget, like a brace or adaptive scissors. My family and I decided those funds would be a part of my work budget. It is a stretch financially but it is very rewarding to help out where I can. At my children’s school the teachers send out emails when they need something and they have put a “Job Board” on their website so parents can check that to see if there is something they can donate (like a vacuum!) or if there is a project for which they can volunteer time or special resources.


16 Colleen April 7, 2014 at 5:14 pm

I teach in northern VA, I taught 2 years in public and now in my 2nd year private. Surprisingly enough we got a lot more money to spend in the public school, taxes I guess! In my private school we have generous parents who send in supplies like paper towels and wipes but I still find myself shopping for books and project supplies. I spent a ton my first year but now that I’m in my 4th it’s a little easier to handle.


17 Meg April 7, 2014 at 5:15 pm

I have multiple family members who are teachers and my heart breaks every time I think of this terrible truth! I’m embarrassed by it! My go to donation right now is wet wipes – with a baby at home and frequent requests from my elementary child’s classroom it’s an easy thing I have on hand. Sometimes it’s just about sending in what you have while you’re thinking about it! Bravo on the vacuum and for making an effort to support all the dedicated teachers out there.


18 Amy April 7, 2014 at 5:18 pm

We have garage sales periodically to lighten the load of our stuff, and when we moved 2.5 years ago, we had the mother of all garage sales. It was a great time to move and sell things because our kids were 15 and 12 and we took the opportunity to get rid of all but the most sentimental toys, games, puzzles, gadgets, and gear from their earlier childhoods. Lots of teachers came to this sale and we did not charge them for items they were going to use in their classrooms. One teacher was ecstatic about the basket of 100+ Matchbox cars, another loved the little kids’ musical instruments, yet another couldn’t believe her luck finding puzzles with all the pieces. And then we sent literally hundreds of books to schools and the local branch of our public library. So many things we all have can be educational in the right hands and have a lot of life left in them, so I encourage your readers to ask their schools if they can use them after their kids leave that particular stage. (Asking is key – nothing is worse than an unnecessary or not suitable “gift” taking up space.) Of course, these things are not pencils or sticky notes, but they can add depth and enrichment to a classroom.


19 Faith April 7, 2014 at 5:29 pm

I am a former teacher, and my husband teaches 4th grade. I also have 2 daughters-Kindergarten and 1st grade. I have experienced this as both a parent and a teacher. It is great that you had a vacuum to send! It can be rough making sure that all students have their needs met.


20 Jenny also April 7, 2014 at 5:35 pm

Same here! A couple of months ago (during peak cold season) we were in Target walking near the huge wall of facial tissue. I grabbed some small packs I carry in my purse and my 2nd grader said “we need some big boxes.” I said “nope, we have plenty at home.” And he said “we need them
In my class. We have to blow noses in those stuff, brown, recycled paper towels.” Took me a back that he and his classmates had pretty basic needs not being met. It was our pleasure to buy a big multipack and leave them anonymously on his teachers desk. I would def. buy things from a registry.


21 Ellen April 7, 2014 at 5:37 pm

Our situation is a little different – we homeschool. That said, I can certainly attest to the costs of educational supplies, as I have to track down and purchase every item we use for our schooling. My sister works in early childhood education in our local school and I have witnessed how much of her own funds she uses to get quality resources. Whatever the scenario, it certainly takes resources to provide quality materials! It would be so discouraging to be unable to get the materials needed.


22 Christine April 7, 2014 at 6:01 pm

As a teacher and a mom of school aged kids, I thank you for this post. I think many parents are unaware of what their children’s classrooms need. I buy many supplies for my classroom, including tissues. I mention tissues because they are a health concern. Can you imagine unwiped, drippy noses? Or, if we do not have tissues in the classroom, kids ask to go to the bathroom missing valuable time in class. it sounds minor, but those minutes of lost instructional time add up.


23 MagpieLovely April 7, 2014 at 6:10 pm

I am constantly donating to my kids classrooms and to the CONSTANT pleas for fundraising from our PTA (seriously, I send in a $50 check *to each classroom* just about every month).

I hate to be the devil’s advocate, but there is a tipping point. I’m just about at the point where I want someone to start cutting programs or extras and instead try to spend within their budget! Everyone’s story (of course) is about the desperate need for soft tissues, but our district finds the funds to build a new pair of basketball gyms even though they can’t seem to afford pencils in the 2nd grade. There is enough money for every child to have two copies of every text book (one for home and one for school, no kidding, for 5 classes for both my junior high and high school students) but the PTA still begs for pennies to help fund the part-time library aide. What is that?

I really believe they depend on donations for essential items like tissues and pencils instead of allocating more of the budget for these items because they know teachers and parents will pay for it and thus they keep the rest of the funds for whatever pet projects or technology gizmo they want. Why else does there seem to be money for some items but not for the basics?

To be clear, this does not keep me from donating, but after 11 years in three different states in various public schools districts, I am one suspicious parent.

(PS: California is by far the most offensive in this regard. They overspend in the most absurd ways and plead poverty in the most persistent and egregious manner.)


24 Anonymous April 8, 2014 at 10:40 am

Amen sister!


25 ha April 8, 2014 at 10:46 pm

You are lucky to have children attending schools in a district that can pay for extras. I have taught in ten different Bay Area schools over the past two decades and three of those schools were in extremely wealthy areas, and sound quite similar to what you are describing. Parents in those districts complained about being asked for money too often, but being asked for money because you can afford to give is not such a bad problem to have.

The other schools I have taught in are desperately poor. No computers, no library, no “extras”. In one school I was told to find my own furniture. I have in fact bought or found my own file cabinets, chairs, TVs, and DVD players, and have supplied numerous other smaller items. There are schools that are truly poor. No one there donates anything. Yearly PTA budgets (if there is a PTA) may be $2,000 at the most. It is hard to believe these schools exist if you don’t teach in one or have your children attend one. It’s not a matter of budgeting better. It is because Prop 13 decimated school funding and only those schools in wealthy areas have been able to make up the difference through fundraising and local property tax measures.


26 Jeaneane April 9, 2014 at 7:58 am

Magpie Lovely I feel the the same as you most of the time…it is hard for me to watch others spend money frivolously! And I have a hard time with PTO $$ requests every week! I have tried to keep an open mind (I don’t know a lot of the behind the scenes stuff) as well as try to not feel quilty that I can’t offer/donate more. I struggle with it!


27 Aly April 7, 2014 at 6:12 pm

Just this morning I received the weekly email from my daughters 4th grade teacher with the request that they were in need of white board markers. I think i noticed it myself too because I have an extra pack in my desk drawer that I will send with her tomorrow. I hadn’t heard of the program before, but think it is a great idea to be able to buy things off a registry. My 2 kids go to a charter school and have great teachers, and a parental support system. But unless they ask I feel that I don’t think about it. I feel sad for those kids that have to go without or teachers that have to spend there own money. I love that your bringing awareness to this!


28 susan April 7, 2014 at 6:31 pm

My kids had very different lists this year. My daughter is in h.school and on the block system, so each block the teachers may or may not ask for a few items for the classroom and usually suggest the type supplies each student should use personally. It sounds minimal, but one necessity casually mentioned was a graphing calculator. There’s $150 alone. I know that the socioeconomic indicators of our area would lead the school to assume that wouldn’t be a problem for anyone, but I think you can’t always judge a person’s current job/life/financial status by their zip code. I remember wondering how many folks gasped when they googled that one.

My son is in a charter school and they definitely still have the extensive supply list at the beginning of the year. It’s divided into required and optional, with optional being the bigger items for the classroom that you can contribute if you’d like. Off the top of my head, I recall those being things like cushions for the reading center, sports equipment for recess, snacks for the snack cafe, etc.

During the year, we get small, specific requests as things come up; plants for the class garden, iron filings for a polarity experiment, materials for papier mache, etc. I know that even so, the teachers spend their own money in all kinds of ways.

I wasn’t familiar with Adopt-A-Classroom. I can’t tell if my kids’ classrooms are on there. The only way I see to access a classroom list is to first make a sufficient donation. I guess if they haven’t mentioned it, they probably aren’t. Thanks for bringing to our attention!


29 melanie April 7, 2014 at 6:50 pm

just want to comment to say wow! that video! the power of a teacher is truly amazing….the gifts she (and so many others teachers) is giving her students is so very moving. so glad you shared.


30 Jenny April 7, 2014 at 7:07 pm

What a wonderful idea! I wish there was an Office Depot near us…the only one in our area just closed :(


31 Kelly April 7, 2014 at 7:12 pm

Thank you for highlighting this topic. So much of what we hear in the media about teachers is negative, but NOT when you ask individual parents. Most parents still hold teachers in high regard after witnessing the miracles and smiles they create for our children. As a parent I appreciate all the weekends spent grading papers, time spent on Pinterest looking for ‘cute’ motivation ideas, and the ways my children’s’ teachers help them become better humans, not just better students. As a teacher, I know the sacrifices made (time away from our own families, money spent on hungry students, and too-often purchases of those ‘just right’ books to hook reluctant readers) that, while expensive, are never regretted.


32 Tamara April 7, 2014 at 7:19 pm

My sons Kindergarten teacher is fantastic and invests so much of herself into her class. She utilizes Donors Choice to help her buy large items for her class. She requests smaller items in her newsletter. I think programs that help teachers are so important.


33 Carrie April 7, 2014 at 7:24 pm

Thanks for writing about this! Another really great organization is donorschoose.org. They provide an easy way for people to help teachers at low income schools with specific items or projects for class. As a Chicago Public Schools teacher, I had a grant funded through donorschoose.org that allowed us to purchase disposable cameras and voice recorders for my high school newspaper class. Because of the supplies (which really motivated my students!) we were able to publish the school’s first newspaper in over a decade.


34 Anita Warnick April 7, 2014 at 7:31 pm

I really never comment on blogs, but had to on this one. Love to see you bringing awareness to this! My babes are not in public school yet, but my parents are both teachers. My mom teaches elementary, and my dad high school. They both have a high percentage of kids living in poverty. My dad is an art teacher, and for years he has taken portraits for the the formals and put that money back into his art program to take kids to SFMOMA. For some kids it is the first time they have ever taken a trip somewhere. There are many other stories I could tell you of my parents going above and beyond for their kids. But the sad part is that they are getting old, and getting really warn out. We need programs like these to help boost are teachers up and let them know we support them and care about the work they do for our kids!


35 Wendy April 7, 2014 at 7:33 pm

I had not heard of this program, but love the idea! For me, as a “long-distance” grandmother of a soon-to-be-kindergartener, I’m excited to be able to participate at least a little from a distance.


36 shokufeh April 7, 2014 at 7:34 pm

Our son goes to a public charter here in New Orleans. At the start of every school year, we’re given a list of supplies to buy. There are some things that are more kid-specific supplies. And then there are the more shared supplies – like soap and tissues and paper towels – that are also on the lists. I’m sure his teachers unfortunately still buy a ton of stuff. Even with having Amazon wishlists that are intended to help keep the classroom needs met.


37 Jenny April 7, 2014 at 7:38 pm

The sign in the first picture is so inspiring and beautiful, I want yo recite it to my son as he leaves for school in the morning. Teachers do so much more than teach ABCs. They mold our children and create our future leaders. Thank you got highlighting education and our teachers…they deserve the highest praise.


38 Lauren April 7, 2014 at 8:20 pm

I used to balk at the supply lists, but teachers paying for supplies from their own pockets is unacceptable. I try to respond to requests in whatever way I can. Thanks for the reminder.


39 Jinii Boren April 7, 2014 at 8:29 pm

Wow! We are just about to start out on our public education journey with my daughter starting kindergarten next year. This has opened my eyes and made me realize how it is so important to support our teachers in what seems like such a small way.


40 Jessica @ Little Nesting Doll April 7, 2014 at 8:30 pm

We live in one of the “richest counties in the country” according to several studies, yet we receive a pretty lengthy school supply list each year for each of my children. Then throughout the school year, we do receive periodic requests to replenish supplies that have run out. It makes me wonder what happens in school districts elsewhere–we have a Smart Board in every classroom, but my daughter’s 4th grade teacher just requested more pencils. (Thank you for the reminder, going to the store tomorrow.) It makes me feel like priorities here are a little skewed, and that in other districts with much smaller school budgets, things are probably even worse. I’ll be sending this info along to all 5 of the teachers who are teaching my children this year, thank you for the info!


41 Ginger J April 7, 2014 at 8:35 pm

As my boys have gone through elementary school, I’ve been so grateful for good and kind and generous teachers. Our supply lists, thankfully, are minimal (until middle school!). I have many teacher friends—and I know they supplement their meager budgets out-of-pocket. I often send books to add to their classroom libraries, because I know how important it is to read stories that speak to you.


42 Liora April 7, 2014 at 8:36 pm

Have you seen the slam poetry performance “What Teachers Make”? It’s been around for years, but every time I watch the video, I love it. It was brought to mind by the title of your post. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RGKm201n-U4


43 Kamisha Sullivan April 7, 2014 at 8:40 pm

I am a second grade teacher in Compton, CA and I can fully vouch for what you are describing. I am thankful that I have found resources like DonorChoose.org over the years because with a family of my own I could not afford to keep my classroom supplied. My church has donated crayons and markers to my class. This year we ran out of paper, glue, and pencils. What?? I am serious. So I had students bringing in loose sheets gathered from their houses and that is embarrassing. Parents ask “are you serious?” or “why doesn’t the school have these items?” My school does not supply tissue, wipes, hand sanitizer, and other items that one would assume comes in a classroom.
I have asked my son’s kindergarten teacher, who has been teaching longer than me, for advice. She will say things like “budget” or “don’t be afraid to ask.” When she asks we try to help, knowing it all makes a difference.
Thanks for the post and the continued conversation around public schools.


44 Sara April 8, 2014 at 10:10 pm

“My church has donated crayons and markers to my class. This year we ran out of paper, glue, and pencils. What?? I am serious. So I had students bringing in loose sheets gathered from their houses and that is embarrassing.”

So sad! :(


45 joanie April 7, 2014 at 8:48 pm

Thanks for posting about this. it does remind me that I promised my son’s kindergarten teacher bandaids and forgot to send them.
We didn’t have a very long school supply list this year and have only been asked for a few things since such as paper towels and wipes BUT as another person posted I also get a bit fed up with the PTA constantly ‘fund raising’. I appreciate all they are doing and my children go to a great public school, but they seem to ask for donations every month for something else and I don’t know how the money is being used.
On another note, I have at least 1,ooo pens in a box at my house. My husband travels constantly for work and is always bringing home pens from hotels, conferences and the like. I keep them because I hate to throw away anything that can still be used but I don’t know what to do with them. any suggestions on where I could send them? I am sure there are many families out there that could use a good supply of pens for the school year and I feel like I am hoarding them.


46 Liv April 7, 2014 at 8:50 pm

As a teacher and as a mother, I have to say, I feel your public school posts are right on! I had tears reading this post. We spend so much of our own money on our students so that we can teach thoughtful and engaging lessons, or even just so they can take notes and blow their noses! Thank you so much for supporting public schools!


47 Seattle Lulu April 7, 2014 at 9:04 pm

To think that my kids’ teachers spend part of their underpaid salary to buy basics for their classes is humbling. Would love to encourage them in a way like this!


48 Robin April 7, 2014 at 9:04 pm

There’s an org in the bay area called RAFT – Resource Area For Teaching (www.raft.net), that accepts donations of office supplies or surplus materials from corporations and then repurposes them into cheap or free hands-on activity kits for classrooms. Super cool place. All of my friends who are teachers have gone there for help with supplies.


49 Ceridwen April 7, 2014 at 9:09 pm

Mostly, we’ve had the same type of supply requests. Crayons, pencils, tissues, etc… We live in a poor area (I’m pretty sure it’s the lowest paying school in Arkansas) and I know there are a lot of students who’s families can’t give so I try to make sure and buy what’s requested. I love the idea of adopting a classroom. Especially in towns like ours, I think this could have a huge impact. Thank you for bringing this program to the public eye. My sister was a teacher for several years and I know she funded the majority of her classrooms needs right from her own pocket. (She taught at the school my children are currently attending.) I would love to also make a donation to the classroom you choose. Is there a way for me to do that?


50 Katie April 7, 2014 at 9:11 pm

My twins are in kindergarten and both of their teachers ask for items fairly regularly in their newsletters. It is usually small items like snacks, tape, glue, etc. I try to fulfill their requests as often as I can. I also volunteer in the classroom and one of the teachers has mentioned to me that she often buys things out of her own pocket. I am sure that both teachers spend a considerable amount on books, decorations, and other things they need to make their classrooms interesting and engaging. This just seems crazy to me! Our country needs to invest more in education. We live in Colorado and every time there is a ballot issue to increase education funding it is defeated. This needs to stop – schools are important!


51 Laura April 7, 2014 at 9:13 pm

Teachers are spending money on more than just school supplies…so much of the supplemental curriculum is also purchased by teachers. Some teachers have even paid for field trips for their kiddos.

And to the commenter who noted that schools seem to have money for a gymnasium, but not for a library aide…a little clarification: school expenses are not paid from one fund. There are multiple funds and multiple budgets within one school building, and most of the time you are not allowed to borrow from one to pay for something else. New gymnasiums come from a building fund — you can’t pull from those funds to pay an employee’s salary. Lots of rules regarding allocation of funds.


52 joanie April 8, 2014 at 7:34 am

good to know about how funds are allocated.


53 MagpieLovely April 8, 2014 at 8:43 am

I know that it’s all about allocation and ultimately, politics. The root of the issue is not donating more to the classroom, no matter the source, and in fact our generosity may be causing the funding inefficiencies. That is my point. I believe the root of this problem is simply not a lack of resources, it’s the unwillingness to meet the most important, basic needs of our kids in public schools in favor of less important programs and technology. I just don’t believe that a smart board is a necessary accessory for learning. Why does every classroom in my elementary school have a smart board and three dormant computers and yet teachers are constantly begging me for Kleenex?


54 Rachel April 7, 2014 at 9:34 pm

Just to add to the conversation. I teach at a public university (a big one) as adjunct faculty. Because I am not tenure-track faculty I do not have any access to the copy room, the printers, the supplies that are there – anything I bring in to my students I have to make or print on my own and pay for out of pocket.
The numbers are staggering at the K-12 level, but sadly it does not improve at the post-12 level either. Where are the priorities? So much talk about the importance of education, but where is the support?


55 Stella April 7, 2014 at 10:16 pm

I’ve been out of public school for a while and don’t have school aged kids yet, but it seems so crazy to me that teachers do not have budgets for simple classroom supplies!! My sister is a public high school teacher so I’d have you donate to her classroom. I love how supportive you are on your blog of public schools.


56 paula April 7, 2014 at 10:37 pm

We’re also public schools in Oakland- elementary and middle. It’s crazy how much our schools need. Vacuums- yep that’s not unusual at all. Rugs, sure. Chairs? Really there aren’t enough chairs? Our PTA is right now researching a new copier for the teachers – super crazy expensive!

But it’s all so worth it! I’d rather give money to our super diverse Oakland public schools — it’s a great investment since so many kids can benefit and enjoy those clean rugs and sharp pencils! Plus I can’t wait to see all the teacher-selfies posing in front of their new copier. ;)

Thanks for posting on such an important topic!


57 Elisabeth April 7, 2014 at 11:01 pm

My mom has been a teacher for many years, and I am currently in college to get a dual degree in childhood education and art education. I grew up in a small, rural town in the poorest county in New York State. Our school is currently facing decisions due to a $2 million deficit- this is the 7th year we have made pretty drastic cuts. The budget is currently frozen, which means teachers cannot purchase anything, which is likely to continue into next year, in addition to position cuts, program cuts, etc. My mom already spends a lot on her classroom, I can’t imagine how much more she’ll need to spend next year. Unfortunately, we have few parents able/willing to donate things. And yet, New York State had a budget surplus this year- we need to start supporting education more!


58 Callie April 8, 2014 at 2:44 am

With almost a year under our belt in our new home, I’ll never forget the unexpected surprise accompanying our small, country school of the two-columned, page long list of required school supplies. I still remember the first day of school this year and 5 of our kids carrying bags upon Target bags of supplies. The thing is, the teachers couldn’t believe they actually brought them in. And requests still come home listing ongoing needs. Our children’s school without a doubt qualifies as underprivileged and underfunded. What a wonderful program to know about! I’m excited and hopeful about letting our teachers know :)


59 Alice April 8, 2014 at 3:54 am

I am puzzled and shocked. The school doesn’t supply that?! Parents (and teachers!) are meant to buy school supplies such as vacuums and stuff?! Wow. Maybe I have always lived in a bubble but I thought schools supplied their own cleaning products and utensils and children brought their own pencils for their own use?
I am curious to see how it worked in France, because from this side of the Atlantic this sound very alien!
Alice x


60 Caron Edmunds April 8, 2014 at 4:43 am

Hi from South Africa!
At the beginning of each school year I ask each of my son’s teachers for a list of ten things that they would like for their classrooms. The lists we get are usually the things that are not provided by the school and which the teachers end up buying themselves. The items range from extra stationery needs to water bottles for each child, and before have included special toys, extra storage solutions, a globe, dress-up clothes, a bird feeder and a notice board. My husband and I try as far as possible through the year to ensure that we get everything on the list – our sons and their friends reap the benefits and the teachers are truly appreciative of any help.
I believe that teaching truly is a calling; teachers give so much of themselves, they shouldn’t be expected to give financially too!


61 Rebecca April 8, 2014 at 7:22 am

As a public school art teacher and a mother of children who attend urban public school THANK YOU! In our neighborhood most of the families opt for private or parochial schools. We are one of the handful of family’s that go to the public school. It endeared me to your family to see the decision you made with your children regarding school. Not only have my children gotten a fantastic education, thank you teachers, they attend school with a global community and I am not talking about the internet. Not only do the learn academics each day, they learn real life from their friends who are similar yet so different from them. What is beautiful is that the differences slide away and kids are just kids. Gabrielle you are wonderful!


62 Rebecca April 8, 2014 at 7:25 am

As far as supplies you are right. I spend so much money for my students. I also collect so many supplies from the garbage. The best is though, when a parent comes and say I have xyz, do you think you want it?


63 Amy April 8, 2014 at 7:54 am

Thank you so much for highlighting such a worthy cause. It’s so frustrating that public schools need to be so reliant on private donations to have such basic needs met, especially when you consider that schools in lower-income areas, where budgets are already bare-bones, they also don’t have access to the thousands of dollars that parents privately donate in wealthier districts (not to mention all the volunteer hours they log).
You know how Target has that program where if you use their credit card they give 1% back to a school of your choice? I signed up for the card about 10 years ago, and selected a school in my (then) neighborhood in Baltimore, where I’d done some volunteer work as a student. I just noticed on their website a couple months ago that you can see how much you’ve given over the years, and how many other people are sponsoring the school with their card. Guess what? For 10 years, I have been the sole donor to the school through this program. For comparison, a public school near me in Brooklyn (where people clamor to get their kids in) has 50 donors, in addition to dozens of parent-funded special programs for their kids. On one hand, I sound awful talking like this — what, am I suggesting that parents shouldn’t want supplies and opportunities for their kids? — but it makes me so mad that such reliance on parent donations just widens the gap between what middle-class and wealthier kids get vs. their poorer neighbors. I guess I just wish programs that allow you to sponsor your kid’s classroom would also provide easy ways to connect you with classrooms in very great need, because they’re out there, and nobody is helping them.


64 Marlena April 8, 2014 at 8:19 am

We received a robust list for my kindergartener this year, and I think we spent $70 on supplies, but also purchased extra. The teachers also request healthy snack items, and we do get notices from time to time when snack is running low and supplies, too. They have a communal bin at each work station, so all items are pooled together, but as my daughter’s teacher said, “glue sticks are gold in kindergarten.” Gone are the days of when a snack cart with milk comes to the classroom in the afternoon (my case in kindergarten), and I’m happy that my family is able to help out, and that people do what they can. Please note that teachers might not always need “stuff,” but a helping hand in the library or cafeteria duty – time helps, too! Thanks for bringing this important issue to light.


65 Sara April 8, 2014 at 8:52 am

Such an important issue – thanks for starting the conversation, Gabrielle!


66 Christina April 8, 2014 at 9:12 am


I love your passion and your constant thoughtfulness and generosity.

I have three children currently being home schooled, 1 at the Catholic high school, and 3 at the Catholic grade school. Those teachers make even less than the public schools and use even more of their own money to supplement classroom supplies – in my experience – for grade school classes anyhow. I was a public school teacher, grew up in the system and had a great experience. Some of our children attended a fabulous public school in our last town, and we live in an excellent district now. Some of our children may end up in the public school again. It is truly a year-by-year, child-by-child decision for our family.

I share those stats to hopefully ‘prove’ to a stranger that I admire that I am pretty balanced. Sure, we are formed by our own experiences, but I am not anti-public school and neither is my husband. My father-in-law was a teacher/principal in the public school system and when he retired, he went to work in the Catholic schools for pennies compared to what he made before.

Yes, we need to help when asked and stretch ourselves, often times without questioning the teacher, b/c we are not there doing all the planning, seeing all the needs, trying to meet district, state goals, etc. However, there is usually a less-expensive way to get things done. I know, b/c I did it while I was in the classroom, and I do it now as a home school teacher. The stats show that more money in the classroom doesn’t produce better results. It just doesn’t. If you compare the average U.S. school district to that of a number of other countries, they are doing better than we are. If you compare individual districts within a single state, there is not a direct correlation of money spent to test scores. In fact, there are some districts where very little is spent per student and their scores are fabulous.

In a nut, I think the system needs to be revamped. Very few jobs/vocations/careers allow under-performing personal to retain their positions. The NEA is a powerful lobbyist – one of the most powerful. Great teachers could earn more, and bad schools would shut down b/c poor teachers loose their positions and students and parents would have some choice in their schooling. Obviously, not every poor performing school has all bad teachers. Those good ones would have no trouble getting a job…just like any other company that goes under.

Also, your stats on poverty…do me in every.single.time. Yes, those numbers ‘fit’ what we have decided is poverty, but I have kids in my children’s classrooms that are “in poverty” with their Ipods and Iphones and talk about all their flat screen t.v.s and gaming systems and they eat fine. One in particular has a healthy father, around 30 years of age living with the family, but his parents have never married (six kids) b/c it pays to stay separate. They receive more in government aid if they do not marry and if he does not get a job. We have several friends who have small businesses that are doing very well, but they are in constant need of employees (paid $56,000/yr. with high school degree), but they cannot pass the drug tests and/or decide one day just not to go to work – just discussed all of this at a local businesses meeting for the community.

Again, the system needs to be revamped.

Please know that I defend these people until I am blue…we cannot judge every situation and there is always more than what we know. But I volunteer at the local soup kitchen, so I see a lot. I volunteer at the local Right To Life office, so I see a lot. I also help at the local crisis pregnancy center, so I see a lot. We have personally supported a family through counseling and groceries while they went through tremendous difficulty. We sponsor children from other countries, we have adopted domestically and internationally. I’m not touting my goodness, but I am showing that I think my husband and I have seen a lot, and have seen what is working and what is continuing to fail miserably.

Public school monies are not improving our system…we continue to go downhill despite spending more money. It is a product of the government and if we cannot see that our government is not great in how to spend money, then we will continue to waste and accept waste as normal.

We need to do more at the local level, all the way around, b/c money is then not lost in the system paying X,Y, and Z to redistribute it. That is why I support your notion that we give to help our teachers…it is direct and local. How much is lost in this Office Depot idea? Great idea, but is it most efficient? I truly am curious how many cents on the dollar donated to a specific classroom go elsewhere. If nothing, then Whoo- Hoo!!!! I support it! :-)

Thanks for all you do and for allowing people to disagree with you. You have my utmost respect. Now that I have spent all this time, back to home schooling!


67 Sheila April 8, 2014 at 9:39 am

Now that my guys are in high school and beyond, I realize how much more support elementary and middle school teachers have vs. high school teachers in terms of requests for materials. Not to say that teachers at these younger grades don’t pay for materials {they do!} but we don’t hear about requests for high schoolers. And our school has lots of kids who could use help. That said, ALL teachers are heroes in my book, and I’ve not met one who didn’t pay for classroom stuff from her or his own pocket. Thank you so much for bring this to light ~ you rock!


68 gail April 8, 2014 at 10:17 am

Wow! Some great comments! I agree with Christina on many of her points. It’s sad that the kids have Ipods but not basic supplies. I blame the parents for this. Why do they deem elctronics more important than academics? On the other hand, so many kids have these things and it is hard to be the one “without” all the time. I don’t know, change needs to happen that’s for sure. My children all went to Catholic school so we had to buy/pay for many of the supplies and extras on our own. My daughter though, is a 1st grade teacher in the public school system and she sepnds so much money out of pocket each year. Not just for suppiles and learning tools but for individual children as well. I have even bought shoes for one child (anonymously) whose family was struggling. But as my daughter’s family grows, she is pregnant with her 3rd, she has less disposable income to use in her classroom. The statistics don’t surprise me. I thank you for bringing it up for discussion. Love your blog!


69 Megan M. April 8, 2014 at 10:42 am

So far, I haven’t received any additional requests for supplies from my kids’ teachers, aside from asking for more tissues or germ-X during cold season. My sister is a teacher and my in-laws were teachers for many years. I know it’s hard for teachers to keep their classrooms stocked and I’m excited that there’s a program out there to help. I wish there was more I could do and I hate that schools are so underfunded.


70 Leslie April 8, 2014 at 10:59 am

I couldn’t agree with you more. I do know there is another wonderful program out there – that someone may have already commented on…. It is called DonorsChoose>org and here’s the link: http://www.donorschoose.org/ Here’s also ore about the founder Charles Best and this very topic in a recent piece in Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/sites/ryanmac/2012/09/18/donorschooses-charles-best-pioneering-citizen-philanthropy/


71 Angela Adlich April 8, 2014 at 11:10 am

When we purchase school supplies for my daughter, we always buy an extra set and donate to the teacher. She can use it for the classroom, or give it to a student who doesn’t have the means to purchase the supply list. We also buy a backpack and present everything to the teacher at the Meet the Teacher night, or Back to School event before school starts.


72 Shannon April 8, 2014 at 11:18 am

Thanks for bringing up this topic, Gabrielle! Our children attend wonderful public schools and are blessed with teachers who go above and beyond what is required and, while they don’t broadcast it, I know for a fact that they spend their own money on everything from school supplies to books and clothing for kids who need it. I’ll definitely look into the Adopt-A-Classroom program.


73 Sarah April 8, 2014 at 11:40 am

i think this is a wonderful idea – although when you get down to it i think the districts should be funded so that teachers do not have to subsidize our public education system. it’s just wrong. that said, i try to help out and would love my son’s teacher to get the money – she gives 150% of herself to the class every day!


74 leslie April 8, 2014 at 11:43 am

This subject is a boiling pot. I work in the school system in my area and see two things: a lot of waste in the schools and a whole lot more heart from teachers that are trying to make a difference- meaning they put their all into their job, including their own money. Ugh!
I am also in the school district of the most recent mudslide in Oso. The students have been so strong and caring throughout the loss of possessions and friends’ lives. Within days students and parents and teachers, on their own initiative, put together fundraisers to help these families that have lost so much. School isn’t just for learning facts, it’s to learn how to live as a compassionate human being.


75 shadygrove April 8, 2014 at 11:50 am

Ooh, I love everything *else* you do, but I don’t like this program at all. Could Office Depot get any more self-serving? Pat itself on its back for its civic-mindedness while setting up a website so that people will feel guilty and purchase its products at retail price to donate to our schools and teachers what they should already have to educate our kids? That’s nauseating. I totally agree that teachers shouldn’t be paying for school supplies out of pocket, at full retail price. They should have the supplies they need because they have adequate funding to buy them, and the purchasing power of governments and school districts to negotiate good prices. Or here’s an idea: maybe Office Depot could actually donate school supplies to disadvantaged schools! This kind of program only works if the school has a base of community support that is fairly privileged to begin with. What happens if none of the kids and grandparents in your school district can afford to private fund the purchase of school supplies by enriching Office Depot?


76 michelle April 8, 2014 at 12:08 pm

My parents were both teachers and they would surely downplay all the extra that they did and bought, but I remember. They spent hours upon hours grading papers, making lesson plans, putting up bulletin boards and supplying countless extras in the class that their schools did not supply for them. They were amazing at their life’s callings and still are amazing folks.


77 vandegee April 8, 2014 at 1:31 pm

Another mention for donorschoose.org, it’s a great organization.

our classroom teachers (in NYC) use adopt-a-classroom instead of having families bring in the basics at the beginning of the year (pencils, paper towels, paper, etc). Parents donate money (no set amount – it’s based on what you think is appropriate/can afford) and the money is pooled so the teachers can use it throughout the year to buy as needed – it’s also cheaper (buy in bulk for better price) and they can buy exactly what they need – have 15 boxes of pencils left over from last year? Great, no need to buy anymore until later in the year. It’s so much easier for parents, and so much more efficient for teachers.

Then again, wouldn’t it be great if this stuff was automatically supplied by the school system???


78 Janay April 8, 2014 at 2:10 pm

We have had to buy supplies all year long – including snacks for the classrooms. (in WA state) I always try to help when I can so our teacher can focus on teaching!


79 Susan April 8, 2014 at 2:23 pm

When I did my taxes this year I found that I had spent $1,978.00 on supplies and materials for my students. It was shocking to say the least. I don’t mind spending the money, but it is a little hard to swallow when the comments in our local paper about teachers are that we are bottom feeding ******* that work too little and make too much. My principal tells me to quit reading the comments. Maybe someday I’ll be able to follow his advise.


80 Sara April 8, 2014 at 10:07 pm

I don’t know what they’re paying you, but it’s certainly not enough for you to be spending that much out of your own pocket! Yikes. Bless your heart. :)

I agree with your principal’s advice. Actually, isn’t “don’t read the comments” kind of a blogger inside joke, too? Haha. But another idea is maybe you could REPLY with your own comments. Maybe you could tie this topic in somehow?


81 Lindsey April 8, 2014 at 4:06 pm

Teaching resources are really expensive; and I’m not just talking about pens and tissue but puzzles, books, blocks, counting rods, pocket charts… etc. And not only are teachers spending thousands of dollars out-of-pocket, but hours and hours of their free time. 90% of prep work (printing, laminating, cutting…), lesson planning (year plans, unit plans, time requirement per subject, and daily lesson plans), marking and report cards are done evenings and weekends. It is a job you take home with you every-single-night and is very time consuming!


82 Diana April 8, 2014 at 5:36 pm

Great post! I am a teacher now, for over 20 years (what:). I continue to pay for school supplies and tons of stuff for crafts, math work, books, etc every year. In our district, some of our parent groups give us a small portion of funds for our classrooms and we do ask for families to purchase some supplies but it is never enough. Just last week I went to the store twice, for art supplies and a health activity we did. It never ends. I don’t think most people have any idea– as you know, we don’t get well paid overall for what we do (long stories I could tell…)


83 Nicole in MO April 8, 2014 at 6:33 pm

First, thank you for posting this story. I am familiar with DonorsChoose.org, but had not heard of Office Depot’s program.
On your question, yes teachers in my district spend their own money on school supplies for themselves and our students. My first year teaching I kept the receipts and had spent close to $4,000. I’ve wised up since then, and my district has contributed much more to my classroom (including new furniture for the first time this year), but there always seemed something to buy – including decorations for our classroom that are required but not funded. Buying supplementary curriculum is something we all do too. I love teaching, so I {usually} feel it’s worth it, but I’m hard-pressed to come up with other jobs where people pay to do them (except social workers – they’re always bucking up dough).


84 caroline April 8, 2014 at 7:02 pm

I teach kindergarten in an urban, Title 1 school with mostly English Language Learners for students. The school is 99% free and reduced lunch, and a lot of kids come to school very hungry on Mondays–we give them snack packs for the weekends. I spend probably $1500 a year on materials, curriculum and other “necessities” for the classroom and my students. My district doesn’t buy us much more then paper and pencils. A few years ago I became acquainted with Donor’s Choose through a friend and have now written more then 20 projects for my classroom.
Check out DonorsChoose.org and the link is: http://www.donorschoose.org. There’s an article about the founder Charles Best in a recent piece in Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/sites/ryanmac/2012/09/18/donorschooses-charles-best-pioneering-citizen-philanthropy.
I really appreciate all the donors out there that are willing to provide support to the many teachers across the country!


85 noelle April 8, 2014 at 7:20 pm

this whole thing is completely ridiculous to me. as a former washington dc public school teacher i am all to aware of the cost of setting up a classroom (or cart in my case, for i didn’t even have a classroom, rather a cart i rolled from room to room. a cart was a blessing because i started out lugging bags from room to room on different floors of the building). i’m not even going to talk about the fact that i had NO curriculum for my students (this was 1999). my problem with the whole thing, is the fact that the money public schools have is not being spent wisely (which is another whole topic). there is no reason that parents/guardians should have to continue to be badgered with all the requests for the classroom. nor should a teacher have to outfit a classroom. take a good look at your school/school district and there is money being spent in all the wrong places. a vacuum? where is the custodial staff? is the classroom not being properly cleaned each day after school? and as i just typed that i’m realizing there may be some “practical life” skills the teacher may want to be instilling in the students. regardless, it takes resources (that schools/districts have) to get the quality materials to teach children. those resources should be available to the teachers and students (who need them). any teacher should be able to set up his/her classroom with school resources (any “extras” or “luxuries” he/she can get on their own…i have a thing for sparkly gel pens, other colleagues had to have “their” office chair, etc.). this is only scratching the surface of issues in our public education system. and unfortunately for all of us, our entire education system (“system” i said, not “teachers”…don’t want anyone to think i’m targeting teachers, i’m targeting our education system), in this, one of the most blessed countries in the world, is crap (for lack of a better word). where is the money (and we all know it’s there) in our school districts going? you’ll find a lot of waste for sure!


86 Katie April 8, 2014 at 7:58 pm

Totally agree! I just posted below about needing a bookcase as a classroom teacher. Why the district provided ample books (and I was lucky in this case) but no place to store them and keep them in good condition is beyond me. Thank goodness parents were willing to pitch in but, you’re correct, they shouldn’t have to.


87 Katie April 8, 2014 at 7:56 pm

My daughter isn’t in school yet but as a former teacher I’ve been on the other side of this. I’d say $1000/year is probably about right and that’s with bargain shopping and scouring garage sales, thrift stores, etc year round for needed supplies.
As a former teacher, one of the best classroom donations I ever received was a gift card to Ikea. It was given after a family asked what I needed and I honestly answered, “a bookcase.” I think it was for $100 or $150 and I stretched that card so far – a bookcase (of course) but also baskets to arrange books and other materials in, some pillows to make our reading nook more homey, and even a few “kitchen” cabinets that I then convinced our school custodians to install. I hope I can bless one my child’s teachers that well someday!


88 Sara April 8, 2014 at 9:51 pm

Thank you so much for this post! What a wonderful program. :)


89 Sara April 8, 2014 at 10:02 pm

My mom was a Special Education teacher in a low income area, and spent crazy amounts of money on not only her classroom, but on her students personal needs as well. My dad grumbled about it for like a decade. :)

Like another commenter mentioned, she would buy clothing for her students who were in need (or have it donated, or get a friend from church to mend the clothing the children already had) – usually winter clothes so they could play outside, but there were a few who just didn’t have clothes that were appropriate for school. Sometimes they just needed to be washed. I remember her telling me about a young girl who was constantly fidgeting and long story short, she was wearing underwear that was like four sizes too small.

My mom and some of the other teachers even pitched in occasionally to help families with utilities or transportation, and at Christmastime they would buy a bunch of holiday gifts for the neediest of the families and the bus driver would deliver giant bags of presents. :)


90 Emily April 8, 2014 at 10:15 pm

I taught public school before my own children joined our family. I only taught for two years (one year kindergarten and one year 1st grade) but loved every minute. I often bought supplies for my students out of my own pocket; however, I was a young, single person with very little debt and no one but myself to take care of. I can’t imagine how hard it is when you have a spouse and other family that your income has to support. Thanks for bringing awareness to this!


91 Makayla Sampson April 9, 2014 at 8:16 am

Fabulous idea! Thank you for posting about it. Our PTA at my daughter’s elementary school gives our teachers a small stipend for classroom supplies or to use however they need. I doubt if even that is enough. Our PTA also spends thousands in enrichment for our students as well as provides books for our school library. We raise money doing various fundraisers throughout the year, and these usually DO NOT involve the kids going door to door to sell stuff. Our country’s many wonderful teachers and School PTAS/PTOS need support from parents as well as the community!


92 Jeaneane April 9, 2014 at 8:26 am

I am a teacher, was a teacher, will always be a teacher…I’m just not currently teaching in a classroom right now! (: Ha! Currently, I am working at a “non-teaching” job and I routinely spend my own money to keep things going…as most professionals do. Please know, I am not knocking teachers, (remember I was one and still consider myself one) but I did see A LOT of waste (fancy gizmos and decorations that really aren’t necessary…wants vs needs) and that was frustrating! I feel VERY fortunate that I have an hour or so every week to help in the classroom…that way I am able to see with my own eyes what they are lacking and I go and pick something up! For instance, sometimes the pencils are still in good condition but the classroom just needs those cap erasers.
Even with all that being said…I do feel that teaching is a pretty thankless job! I appreciate so much the time and effort teachers put in to their jobs!!!


93 noelle April 9, 2014 at 8:29 am

completely agree on the waste (fancy gizmos, etc.) and completely agree that there are some costs every professional has upkeep costs…great points.


94 michelle April 9, 2014 at 2:57 pm

Hi Gabrielle,
I appreciate you blogging about this subject because it’s so true! I am a 1st grade teacher. The majority of the supplies in my classroom I purchased myself. The majority of the books in my library I purchased myself. It’s true, we spend more than we should on our students because we know they need these things to fulfill their daily routine and learning. Public school teachers unite!


95 Jenny April 9, 2014 at 3:59 pm

We always try to donate to our kids’ classrooms — supplies, money, whatever is needed. But, it’s true that we don’t always know when there is a need. I also prefer to just give cash rather than have my kids participate in sales fundraisers. I think the Home Depot project is great! That way, friends and family can work to get these teachers the supplies they need. Makes you wonder where the tax dollars are going?


96 Jess April 9, 2014 at 4:36 pm

So glad you shed light on this topic! When I first started teaching I thought for sure I was only spending so much because it was my first year, but the truth is everyone does it! There is just no other way to provide supplies for everyone in your class without it. So kind parents always make a difference.


97 Mary T April 9, 2014 at 10:10 pm

Thanks for the shout out! As a former special needs teacher, now supervising those classrooms, I know how much money ALL teachers spend out of pocket.
30 years ago I was buying things out of pocket for my students, now I do the same thing for my teachers and their classrooms.
It’s a privilege to work with such devoted people who choose to make a quiet difference in the lives of students and their families.
Part of my role is to support our teachers to navigate these resources, like Office Max and Donors Choose. They have similar projects that REALLY are making a difference!
The needs are great out there, but with creativity and outside the box thinking, I have to believe we can improve and support public schools and the great teachers that show up each day to teach students.(Now…Working beyond contract hours and through vacations, might be a topic for another day?).


98 Tara April 10, 2014 at 10:24 am

I love this.

Although I am currently at home with my own small children, I remember my first year of teaching like it was yesterday.

I was in a district that provided 100% of the children’s school supplies.
As a teacher I felt that I had access to a generous amount of learning materials. At back to school night, parent’s often fulfilled items on our wish lists such as extra kleenex, zip lock bags and lysol wipes. Our PTA was highly effective and gave each teacher a $200 gift card to a teacher’s supply store at the beginning of each year. It was an ideal situation.

One thing I learned though is that sometimes items that a teacher needs do not fit nicely on a “want list”. I remember waking up on the morning of our classroom Halloween party in a panic. It occurred to me very last minute that one of my students would most likely not have a costume in which to participate in the school parade. I remember fretting about it with my mentor teacher who took me to her closet and opened a small box with some costumes sized to fit 4th graders.

That experience, 2 months into my first year of teaching, made such an impact. Good teachers do and gather and buy, and think of their students (sometimes beyond academia) in many many ways throughout the school year.


99 Eileen April 10, 2014 at 10:55 am

My daughter is in kindergarten, so this is my first experience with school supply requests. My daughter’s teacher is brand new, the school added a new kindergarten class this year due to enrollment, so the room parent started off the school year by asking for $20-$25 donations to help the teacher purchase classroom materials. Part of me wondered why the school system doesn’t cover that, but of course I want to help my kid, and I want her teacher to succeed. (You’re inspiring me to go to PTA meetings and ask a few more questions.) I can afford $25 – and I know other students in her class can not. Every week, the teacher includes a column in the e-newsletter to parents, asking for certain items (glue sticks and lysol wipes are regulars). Also, I’m a member of our local Mom’s Club, and we have a philanthropy coordinator, and the Mom’s Club has a relationship with the school, helping provide backpacks/supplies to kids in need every fall. Another topic that bugs me, is that so few parents volunteer in the classroom. I work, but make the time to volunteer one hour a month; it makes all the difference in the world – knowing what my kid is doing, and understanding how to better help the teacher, keeping lines of communication open.


100 Cheryl Burchett April 10, 2014 at 12:52 pm

I have been fortunate to teach in a school system that doesn’t have a huge problem with supplies. Don’t get me wrong, our funding has been cur EVERY year just about for the decade that I have been here, but so far we are managing. Our high school students pay a fee for their course materials and some students receive a fee waiver and the school system pays the fee to the department. We still do a fund raiser to help ends meet. Some places I worked, the money was there but it took so much paperwork to get it approved, there were times I was faced with spending my own money and having a plan for the day or waiting and having a room full of students who couldn’t work. So, I spent my money. I am currently considering switching to work in a school that offers an arts magnet, but is located in a very poor part of town. It is MUCH closer to our home and is the school my daughter attends. It would mean a LOT more time with my family, but these financial issues of fewer supplies and a lower salary (this will mean a $10,000 pay cut, ouch!) make it a tough choice… and that’s sad. The kids in the poor neighborhood NEED the good teachers and my family NEEDS me, but I also need financial stability. No answers here, just concern and questions.


101 Emily F April 10, 2014 at 3:09 pm

My kids classrooms have big supply lists at the beginning of the year, and throughout the year the teachers will include in their weekly email updates: “We’re running low on _____” or “Please ask your child if he or she still has enough pencils” and so on. I generally send in a large pack for him to share with his whole class, but I’ve never given money. I’ve never even thought about it!


102 Kristian April 11, 2014 at 8:18 am

As someone who works in schools- every single teacher I have ever worked with invests significant amounts of their own money on school supplies, school books and on basic things like glasses, clothes and food for the students in their classes who need it. This is not to say these schools have no funding at all, but there is always more. And in general, I think teacher’s budgets for their classrooms tend to be eaten up by things like textbooks over pencils.

This seems like a great program.


103 Anne Evans April 12, 2014 at 8:51 pm

Nice highlight Gabby!

This sounds a lot like Donors Choose.

I go into my kids’ classroom once a week. Ask the teacher if she needs things. For my son’s birthday we gave the class 20 supply boxes, so everyone who didn’t have one now did. And it feels great. I purchased the little Dover activity books for his entire class for Valentine’s Day. The kids loved it. I know not everyone can do this kind of thing, and I’m happy that I am sometimes able to. It is great to help out other kids. :)


104 Mrs. A April 14, 2014 at 11:10 pm

Great topic, Gabby, and you have quite a variety of responses.

In my experience, the public school system doesn’t fully fund education or the needs of the students. So, it is necessary in all schools that the parents chip in – whether through time in the classroom, donations of supplies or other items, or just giving money to the PTA. And, I’m sure the lack of resources is even more extreme in low income neighborhoods.

My son goes to a public “option” STEM school in a low-income neighborhood. Seating preference is given first to kids who live in the neighborhood. The school also has amazing teachers and a project-based learning approach, so there are a lot of other families who choose this school (which results in a long waiting list every year). So, we have a wide range of economic backgrounds. I am a room parent and I estimabe that about 1/2 of the kids in my son’s 1st grade classroom are low-income (i.e., eligible for FRL). I know that this is not like the 80%-90% seen at other urban schools, but it still illustrates some economic disparity.

The school has a goal of providing a quality STEM education for all students, despite their economic background. However, our district – like many – does not fully fund the school or educational programs. So, our PTA asks for donations twice a year – a direct give and a school auction. The direct give takes donations of any size (my son gave $5 his year). High-income/high-roller parents come to the auction and buy things like class-made quilts for $1,200.00 (no joke). Through both fundraisers, we raised about $80,000 this year.

This sounds like a lot, but it only goes so far. The PTA money is used for EVERYTHING. It pays for library books (no kidding), math and science textbooks, lab instruments, phonics curriculum, teacher learning days, before- and after-school program scholarships, field trip scholarships, classroom supplies, art supply closet, uniform closet, etc. These are big ticket items and the money goes quickly.

Most of the teachers also send out requests for classroom items not funded by the PTA – both at the beginning and throughout the school year. Not surprisingly, the most often requested items in my son’s 1st grade room is leveled readers and snacks. Many low-income kids don’t have access to books at home, so the teacher wants to make sure they have appropriately leveled readers to read at night with their parents. And, many kids come to school hungry (and all the kids are growing), so she ensures that each kid has 2 snacks per day in addition to lunch (and breakfast if they receive FRL).

STILL, after all the donations from parents, I would guess our teacher spends $100 per month from her own money on her own supplies for art projects she wants to do, books for her library, special paper for the students who like to draw, little “awards” for the grab bag. And, I am certain she spent the Amazon gift card she was given for Christmas on the kids, not herself. She’s a hard-working teacher and loves her students, so doesn’t complain.

Unlike other readers, I don’t feel tapped out. yet As a member of the PTA (and a room parent), I can see where the district has put its funding priorities, and where it hasn’t. Our PTA is committed to closing the funding and economic gap and ensuring a quality education for all students. But, even with the extra PTA funding, my son’s teacher still has extra classroom needs. I can contribute – so I do – and am grateful my son has access to such a quality education.


105 Elizabeth Bryant April 16, 2014 at 8:48 am

My mother-in-law is a 2nd grade teacher at an extremely low-income school in Southern California, just a few miles from the Mexico border. Many of her students disappear for weeks at a time to go back to Mexico and then reappear, to be completely behind all the other students – she essentially has to start over, but she continues to do it every time. She has been teaching these children for 30 years and as her school has abolished most art programs over the years, she has taken her talents and out-of-pocket money to buy a kiln for teaching a pottery class. She has spent hours and hours teaching art masterpiece and used her own resources to give these children opportunities to be creative and learn new things. It’s a shame that we’ve had to get rid of so many good programs in the schools for budget reasons and that these teachers have to use their small incomes to supplement to keep them going.


106 Kim April 27, 2014 at 1:20 pm

My husband is a high school teacher in an impoverished urban district. Right before spring break, he had to start bringing in his own reams of paper to make photocopies of his handouts and tests because the school was literally out of paper. He buys supplies for students, gives out lunch money to hungry kids, and we even chipped in on a coat for a student who had none. I’m going to sound like a negative Nellie, but something like that registry isn’t going to help his class. If his kids had aunts, uncles, grandparents with more money, they’d be in a different district.


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