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There are many stories out there regarding how much money teachers spend out of their own pocket on their classroom. Of course, it’s not news to you! This also doesn’t account for all the “off the clock” time teachers put in to get the classroom ready!

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!

The school I was in my first year dated back to 1928. 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 hardwood 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 and district mandates we did not ask students to provide any school supplies at all. 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 classroom decor supplies. This was pre-TpT days 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 which 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 due to lack of access, 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 had access to was 2nd grade and below books!

I also replaced folders and other supplies throughout the year and kept the class stocked in tissues. 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 approximately $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*!

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 9-month a year job of teachers and other disrespectful comments and it really burns me because I really don’t think the general public understands that my experience is replicated 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?

I know the state of finances for teachers has not improved over the years. Quite the opposite actually with legislation hurting or eliminating teacher unions.

Studies show that 94% of teachers spend out of their own pocket. This number actually surprises me and I find it low. I have never met a teacher that spends nothing, much less 6% of them! The national average is $479 for out of pocket spending by teachers. How does that compare to your experience? 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!

*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.