HUNT COLUMN: Open hearts and open wallets

Published 10:30 am Wednesday, August 9, 2023

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“Teaching: the only profession where you steal supplies from home and bring them to work.” This was a meme shared on my recent Facebook post where I asked present and former teachers to tell me about how they have spent their own money on their students, classrooms and lessons.

I heard from educators from public, private, and even college institutions. The comments were not bitter — just realistic and heartfelt about what it takes to make students’ surroundings welcoming, their instruction more engaging, and their personal needs met.

Several added that they could probably get a lot of what they buy through school purchase orders, but the hassle and the wait time make opening their own wallets a lot easier. Some of the more commonly named purchases are frequently supplied by the schools, but teachers often need more than they’re allotted and school budgets run out. Parents could help with the following (and I note that secondary school teachers need them as much as those in elementary schools, but don’t normally get nearly as many donations from parents): Snacks/rewards; paper (graph, lined, construction); notebooks, folders, composition books; pencils, markers, pens, crayons, highlighters; paper towels, tissue, hand sanitizer, cleaners; glue, scissors, rulers, labels, erasers, band-aids, tape and poster board.

Other needs become more expensive and specialized. Band teachers spend money on things like reeds, valve oil, music, instruments and instrument repair. Science teachers buy materials for lab experiments such as baking soda, ammonia, dish soap, foil, and dissection kits. Other miscellaneous items reported to me included batteries, laminators, heavy-duty hole punchers, games and manipulatives, brooms and dustpans, storage bins, software, ink and printers for home, baggies, subscriptions, and classroom pets and their necessary accoutrement. 

One commenter noted that Pinterest has made classroom décor a competitive sport! At the heart of that is a teacher’s desire to make their classroom a comfortable, stimulating, and welcoming space. Posters and colorful bulletin boards have always been around, but teachers also buy rugs, curtains, lamps, pillows, calendars, clocks, wall paint, bookcases and other furniture.

And then there are the things that teachers do for the welfare of their charges. When they see the need, they quietly buy lunches, clothes, backpacks, hygiene products, birthday and other holiday gifts. They pay club dues, registration fees and ticket costs for special events. 

Let’s not forget the money poured into getting advanced degrees, not only for individual betterment but also for higher salaries. I got my gifted certification and was able to attend several conferences courtesy of the Troup County School System but getting my master’s degree (tuition, books, travel) was entirely on me, as were some other learning opportunities I chose to partake of. 

I remember a couple of years when Walmart gave every teacher a $100 gift card for supplies. I thought I’d won the lottery. Staples gave a free supply kit to every teacher during pre-planning, and I made sure to show up for that. There were lean years when we had a reduction in force and had to take furlough days, and everyone got a few reams of paper that they had to make last, which of course was impossible so we bought our own. 

I’d venture to say that the average teacher easily spends hundreds of dollars every school year to enhance their school days. Most probably wouldn’t care to know the exact number of thousands they spent over a career. 

Smart people who could go into other fields where they would earn a lot more money make up our ranks of dedicated teachers, and thank goodness for that. We covet your prayers and positive vibes for this new school year, and I might also ask that you grab something your child’s teacher could use when you shop. You’ll brighten their day, make their lives easier, and help their bottom line.