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Parents, this is how you can help your kid's teacher this year

Budgets are notoriously tight in many school districts, but it's not just pencils, glue and paper that teachers need.
by Vivian Manning-Schaffel /
Back to School Shopping At Wal-Mart
Your kid’s teacher is still likely shelling out their own cash to score supplemental materials for their class. Patrick Fallon / Bloomberg via Getty Images
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If you have kids, you’re no stranger to the ritual of jamming through a crowded department or office supply store, foraging for school supplies. Yet, according to a survey based on a nationally representative sample of tens of thousands of teachers released this year by the National Center for Education Statistics, your kid’s teacher is still likely shelling out their own cash to score supplemental materials for their class.

“Among teachers who spent any of their own money on classroom supplies without reimbursement, the average (mean) amount spent was $479, and the median amount spent was $297 with as many as 9 percent of teachers shelling out the upwards of $1k of their own money,” according the survey.

Margaret DeRosa Stevens, a second-grade teacher in the Hoosick Falls Central School District in upstate New York, says she probably spends about $500-$1000 out-of-pocket each year on activities and supplies for her classroom. “Honestly, our school district and parents are good with funding at the beginning of the year, but we usually start to run low on pencils, glue sticks and crayons around Thanksgiving,” she says, texting us a picture of her already robust “snack stash” drawer. “Sometimes I ask parents to help, but if it’s an activity I’m choosing I don’t want to burden them. I probably spend the most money on daily snacks. It’s so difficult to watch one child take out a juice box, string cheese, fruit and a cookie, while other children have nothing.”

I probably spend the most money on daily snacks. It’s so difficult to watch one child take out a juice box, string cheese, fruit and a cookie, while other children have nothing.

School budgets are notoriously tight

Why do teachers spend so much of their own money on supplies? School budgets — including school lunch — vary wildly from city-to-city. For example, New York City traditionally bases their budgets on factors like grades earned by students, and the demographic of each school population — the amount of kids requiring free or reduced lunch can boost the funding a school receives.

According to the American Association of School Administrators, school funding is used to pay for:

  • Teachers’ salaries and professional development
  • Principal, assistant principal and administrative support staff salaries
  • The school buildings themselves, including the light and heating bills
  • Curriculum and staff development
  • Transportation (school buses and drivers)
  • A school nurse
  • Breakfast and lunches for students
  • A school library and librarian
  • School counselors
  • Special education programs

Teachers are often paid unevenly

Teacher salaries can vary wildly from city-to-city and state-to-state, depending on the cost of living. In very expensive New York City, for this school year, brand new teachers with bachelor’s degrees and no prior experience range from $57k to $86k, for a master’s degree and eight years of teaching experience. Maximum salaries reportedly top off at over $100k. Mind you, teachers in other states fetch far lower salaries: just over $38k for less than 3 years of experience and a bachelor’s degree to almost $56k for a master’s degree and over 27 years of experience, according to the Alabama State Department of Education website.

Part of the reason for this huge discrepancy, as a recent NBC News THINK essay points out, is that property values can play a part in determining teacher pay, often leaving kids in rural and urban environments with underpaid teachers and scant resources. Teachers are walking out in protest: This spring, Arizona, Oklahoma and West Virginia teachers took to the streets to protest low pay, huge gaps in pay (as in what we mentioned above) and low school funding.

According to “Teacher Turnover: Why It Matters and What We Can Do About It,” a 2016 report from the Learning Policy Institute, teacher retention might improve if teachers were provided with competitive and equitable compensation across districts, and service scholarship and loan forgiveness programs were instituted to ease education debt burdens. In the meantime, parents and taxpayers can advocate for better teacher pay in their communities by supporting teacher unions and advocacy organizations, and voting for school budget and teacher pay increases whenever possible.

What else can we do to help our teachers lighten their load this school year?

Volunteer and fundraise whenever you can

When it comes to helping teachers, time is just as valuable as money. “Go to PTA meetings and school events and learn what you can do based on school needs that best fits your schedule,” says Dana Gerendasi, principal of the Waterside Elementary School in Queens, New York. “My PTA executive board are all working families. Volunteers that will help to fund-raise and volunteer their time can really help lessen the load of the board.”

See your child’s teacher as a partner

Andrew Swapp, who taught middle and high school in Milford, UT for 14 years, says it would help teachers if more parents adopted the mindset that school is designed to help them educate their children — not to be the sole source of their education. “Treat the teacher with the respect you would a doctor, and yes —a second opinion is allowed. Read everything your child brings home and ask questions about what they learned daily,” says Swapp. If your child is struggling to connect or learn, Swapp recommends meeting with the teacher with a few suggestions of your own in hand. “If you have no alternative, your complaint may fall on deaf ears — not because the teacher wants to ignore you— but because most teachers rely on recommendations either from other teachers, the state or from a workshop attended in the summer,” he explains. After all, you know your child best and can provide teachers with insight on how to reach them.

Remember that your child’s teacher is a human being

Above all, remember that teachers are people too. “I always noticed that parents would compare our job to theirs and, based on the hours, think of it as an easier job,” recalls Adam Cole, a veteran Atlanta-area public school teacher. “There is no downtime. Imagine your job was to watch one child for eight hours a day with perhaps a 45-minute break in there, somewhere. Now make that 20 or 30 kids who are interacting with one another while you’re either ‘presenting’ or ‘attentive’ to ensure they’re safe, occupied and learning — and you’re held accountable for the results. This level of intensity tends to burn teachers out fairly quickly and while there is no alternative, compassion, understanding and support helps tremendously.”

And when Thanksgiving rolls around, ask your child's teacher if they need more snacks, glue sticks and tissues. Chances are they'll be thankful.

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