Imagine: You are a fresh college graduate, excited to have landed your first job as a primary school teacher at an under-served public school. You make a $34,000 salary, barely enough to pay back a semester worth of college loans, but it's worth it, because you believe in the cause of ending educational inequality, and you turn your nose up at friends who sold their souls to the corporate world.
You knew that it would be hard – except no one ever told you that your already shoestring budget would have to stretch to cover many basic classroom supplies that your school simply cannot afford. In fact, you soon realize that where society fails to take care of kids, you are expected to step in, at your own expense.
Ninety-two percent of teachers reported spending their own money on classroom supplies, according to a survey conducted by the National School Supply and Equipment Association. Insurance company Horace Mann found that nationwide, education supply budgets were slashed at an average of 50% since the recession; In North Carolina, 65%. Many teachers accrue out-of-pocket costs upwards of $400 a year to buy supplies ranging from paper to books to lab equipment. Those images of colorful kindergarten classrooms, bedecked with posters, and storybooks depends largely on the private contributions of caring and compassionate teachers.
The profession of teaching has become less and less glamorous in recent years, especially after the nationwide educational expenditure took a dip during 2007 recession. School supply budgets were the first to be slashed, and they have stayed stagnant since then. “It has gotten worse for us … especially since we haven’t received a raise in seven years,” said Ms. Lucas, a middle school teacher in Valparaiso, Indiana. “When I do a science lab, I usually pay for it all on my own,” said Brian Hogue, a science teacher in suburban Denver. Hannah Martin, a pre-kindergarten teacher in North Carolina, takes as many babysitting jobs she can find in order to fund her out of pocket expenses for the classroom, she revealed in an interview with USA today.
More and more teachers are looking towards the internet as a way to acquire necessary funds. On Tuesday, Reddit.com launched its "reedditgifts for Teachers" 2013 initiative, a program that “matches redditors with teachers in need of supplies for their classrooms.” Last year, over $150,000 worth of supplies were delivered to teachers who had declared their needs through the website.
Not only are supply cuts harming the kids who have less educational tools, it is also inevitably going to drive great teachers away from teaching to pursue more lucrative careers.
I know what you are thinking: If teachers truly care about their students, they should tough it out despite budget cuts. However, when teachers have to reach into their own pocketbooks to supply many of the basic equipment necessary for them to do their job, to work part-time jobs to supplement these extraneous costs, to continually step in where society has failed, it’s no wonder that teaching has become more and more equated as a selfless profession.
I remember clearly telling a friend that I wanted to be a teacher, his response was, “That’s so charitable of you!” I know not to take the opinion of one person to signify public sentiment, but we would be lying to ourselves if we said that the profession of teaching in the U.S. commands the same amount of professional respect that other jobs do, or even as much as it did in the past.
The professionalism and respect for teaching must be reinstalled in order to attract more quality teachers into the field. It is not a "volunteer" project, not a two-year fling to make your law school application more competitive or a quick-solve method to “give back to society”. It is a job — in every sense of the word – and that means the teachers must be provided with the simple necessities to carry out their duties while maintaining the same salary level of other jobs that require the same amount of training and education.
We're already inundated with messages about the importance of good education. But it’s time to reevaluate our attitudes toward the teaching profession itself. Policymakers should keep in mind that teaching is, in fact, still a profession, not a charity.