How Much Does it Cost You to Go Back to School?

The Omaha World Herald had an interesting story in the paper today regarding how much teachers spend out of their own pocket on their classroom.

Teachers pay up — some spend hundreds of dollars — to stock up on school supplies for their classrooms - OMAHA METRO

The story focuses on the Omaha Public Schools and the local teachers' union, the Omaha Education Association. Obviously this story is of interest to me since I am involved in the education industry, but it also has meaning for me because I taught in the Omaha Public Schools for several years. My first reaction to the story was why is it just now coming to light as an issue? This was a major concern when I started with OPS in 1995 and I am guessing that wasn't the first year teachers bought their own supplies! I guess better late than never though, so I do commend the Omaha Education Association for taking a role in looking at the issue now.

The 1995-96 school year was my first year teaching fourth grade. I remember being so overwhelmed with so many things. I was not prepared for the culture shock of teaching in the low income school where I was assigned, but I had a lot of foreshadowing so it wasn't a total surprise. What I was really shocked about was the complete lack of supplies and condition of the building/classroom that I was to teach in. They do not warn you or prepare you at all in college for the complete lack of support you may receive for supplies!

My building was opened in 1912 with the current building aged from 1928. The school did undergo a major renovation in 2002, but for the years I was there 1995-1999, it was very aged and deep need of repair. The day I entered my classroom for the first time I was welcomed with 20 older metal desks, an old teacher's desk with broken locks on the drawers, a single (empty) bookshelf, 2 smaller tables, and a very dated overhead projector on a cart all covered in dust! After thoroughly cleaning I took stock of what I had to work with. The storeroom was supplied with some colored paper on giant rolls we could use for projects or bulletin board backgrounds, some pencils, student paper (that old very thin, brownish tinted kind). To get other supplies like scissors, pens, and other basic office supplies for my desk I was able to put in an order. Our school did not have any kind of a Parent/Teacher organization in place so there was nowhere to go for extra funding for anything else. Even with my sparse inventory I was so excited to decorate and get my classroom ready to be a place to come together as a community and learn!

For the reading area I bought a carpet remnant and scrounged garage sales and found an old chair and as many chapter books as I could find. The room had hard wood floors with big high ceilings so it wasn't comfy and cozy and the acoustics were terrible! 

Due to the income level of the area we did not ask students to provide any school supplies so I went to Target's back to school sales and bought up folders and other supplies the students would need. Of course I emptied my checking account at the teacher resource stores on bulletin board supplies and other classroom decor. This was before you could create and print any of this yourself on a computer with a colored printer so it was all that pre-made stuff that was not cheap! A computer was not added to my classroom for a year or so. I was able to go to the Teachers Administration Building in another area of town and use a laminator that the district provided so that was helpful!

I was really proud of how nice my room looked, but my bank account was pretty empty those first days of school!

Throughout the year I tried to continue to stock the class library with $1 books from the Scholastic orders. I had a desperate need for chapter books. Our school only went up to grade 4 and sadly the school library was pretty small and very, very light on chapter books. My students did not have a high rate of public library use so school was the place for them to get their hands on books. I wanted them to be reading age appropriate books. I felt very strongly that you could not expect students to be reading at a 4th grade level when all they were exposed to was 2nd grade and below books!

I also replaced folders and other supplies throughout the year and kept the class stocked in Kleenexes. The district did not provide tissues at all, we were expected to use the coarse paper towels. This was not comfortable or very hygienic!

Over the course of that first year I spent an $1400, more than a month's pay, on supplies to make my classroom a place that was conducive to learning. I didn't go fancy, I added the bare bones to make the shell of a room into a learning environment. I still look back on that room with great pride. I do feel the school should  have provided much more and there is still a little bitterness there, but I don't regret spending the money I did on those kids. They deserved a warm classroom where they could learn. It just shouldn't have been funded by someone being paid a mere $10,000 per year! 

*My first year contract consisted of a stipend of $10,000 and my tuition for my Master's Degree paid at UNO. I was also not provided any medical or other benefits.

For the years after that I didn't contribute quite as much to my classroom since some things like carpet, the chair, bean bags, etc could be used again year after year. I continued to contribute for all that other stuff and it added up!

I see so often in the news about the cushy job of teachers and other disrespectful comments and it really burns me because I really don't think the general public understands that this goes on in classrooms all across the country every year. How many other jobs are workers expected to contribute one month's pay a year back to their employer or clientele?

The article states that, "In an Education Market Association survey last year found that teachers spent an average of $485 out of pocket on school supplies and instructional materials." I was spending way more than that back in the 90's here in OPS so maybe things are getting better? The article did state that teachers can turn in their receipts for possible reimbursement. There was no such policy in place when I was teaching, at least that was ever communicated with me or any other teacher at my building.

I am glad to see the OEA take a serious look at this subject and I hope to see more progress in them advocating to get the district to prioritize their budgeting and help teachers give students the education and environment they deserve! 

How do you compare to the national average of $485 out of pocket spending for your classroom? Do you receive much support for the basics? For extras? 

Where do you find the best deals for the things that you buy for your class? Please share in the comments below your feelings about this subject and share any great deals you come across!

Click on the link below to download a Back to School Freebie. Hopefully this will help lighten the load on your Back to School budgeting! ;)

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