Teachers spend an average of $623 from their own pockets on school supplies each year, a new survey suggests.
A new study confirms what most of us in education already know: Teachers dig deep into their own pockets to make sure their students don’t go without.
Teachers spend an average of $623 annually on everyday supplies like paper, crayons, and pencils, according to the study, which was sponsored by OfficeMax.
About 97 percent of teachers surveyed in April reported using their own cash to buy supplies, prizes and incentives, snacks, and materials for arts and crafts projects.
With cuts hammering school budgets, stocking classrooms with basic supplies is only getting tougher. For teachers who haven’t had a raise since the economy tanked and were underpaid to begin with, their personal generosity is taking a toll.
About three in 10 teachers (28 percent) surveyed admit they’ve cut their family budgets to help fund their classrooms.
While these teachers’ devotion to their students is admirable—nearly a third also said they’d give up two vacation days to ensure their students had the best possible learning environment—funding classrooms on the backs of educators isn’t.
“It’s shocking, it really is,” says Bill Bonner, senior director of external relations with OfficeMax. “What other profession says, ‘Sure, you’re hired, now bring in all your supplies.’ That’s like telling a fireman to bring in some hoses and a ladder, and we’ll let you go do your job.”
That’s why OfficeMax teamed up with Adopt-a-Classroom, a nonprofit organization that uses the web to match teachers with community donors to purchase resources for the classroom.
Founded by Jamie Rosenberg in 1998, Adopt-a-Classroom directs 100 percent of its donations earmarked for classrooms to the teacher in the form of online credit. The charity is accredited by the Better Business Bureau as part of its “wise giving” program.
Teachers register their classrooms for the program. Donors select classrooms by geography, school name, teacher name, or other search criteria. If donors don’t have a preference, the program pairs them with underserved schools in their area.
Teachers then shop online using Adopt-a-Classroom’s vendor network. Supplies and materials are delivered to the teacher.
The transactions are tracked online; teachers and students typically write notes or send artwork to say thanks. Donors receive impact reports from Adopt-a-Classroom.
OfficeMax hopes its partnership with Adopt-a-Classroom and the new study will prompt more parents and community leaders to sponsor back-to-school supply drives.
“This is not to cast administrators in a bad light,” says Bonner. “Most administrators wish there was more they could do. Our effort is to really try to drive some public support. There are a number of things parents and others who want to help our schools can do to support teachers. Masses of people each doing a little bit will help us get to where we need to be.”
The company started focusing on teachers a few years ago after its customer research indicated that education was something customers believed OfficeMax should support.
“It’s underknown that teachers spend their own money on basic school supplies,” says Bonner. “This is something we feel we can legitimately help with and bring to the national forefront.”
While OfficeMax’s philanthropic efforts are also market-driven—an increase in supply drives could mean an increase in sales—the company says it’s committed to ending “teacher-funded classrooms.”
The company also sponsors A Day Made Better, a national program that surprises more than 1,000 teachers at Title I schools with $1,000 in school supplies. Title I schools serve high percentages of students whose family incomes meet federal standards for poverty.
Teachers say they welcome more support from parents, volunteers, and community partners, the study shows. Seven in 10 teachers report their schools are not able to provide them with all the necessary tools to effectively teach their students.
Since A Day Made Better debuted in 2007, OfficeMax and Adopt-a-Classroom have served more than 3,500 teachers and have attracted donations for 10,000 classrooms.
As part of the program, each winning classroom receives a digital camera, printer, and a large gift box containing essential classroom supplies. Teachers also receive a high-quality office chair.
“So many teachers’ desks and chairs are just horrible,” says Bonner. “We give them a leather work chair or office chair, and they get pretty excited about it.”
To identify the supplies included in the gift box, OfficeMax conducts research, surveying teachers and school administration on their greatest classroom needs. Typically, basics such as paper, colored paper, stickers, and pencils top the list. For the past two years, Bonner says, the No. 1 item has been electric pencil sharpeners.
“Teachers say that if they can get the line moving faster, they have more time to teach,” notes Bonner. “It just shows how teachers are really thinking about what they can do to improve learning.”
Award-winning eSchool News columnist Nora Carr is the chief of staff for North Carolina’s Guilford County Schools.
A Day Made Better