Teachers, what advice would you give to fellow teachers who can’t afford to pay for classroom supplies out of pocket?
Even if you *can* afford to pay for classroom supplies, please don’t. It perpetuates the subconscious assumption that teaching is a hobby, not a profession, and that teachers *should* be expected to pay for their job (rather than the other way around).
Both of my parents are from the Silent Generation, born during WWII, with older siblings from the Depression. “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without” is firmly entrenched as part of my worldview. So rather than buying what I don’t have, I first look at what options I actually DO have.
Check with other members of your team/department. Unless your school is brand-new, there’s a good chance that you’re replacing someone who moved or retired. Did they leave behind any supplies you can use? Or, are there colleagues who have materials they’re not using and would be willing to give you? Sometimes we change classes / grade levels and don’t need things we previously did.
Colleagues can also tell you about resources you may not be aware of. Our school has a die cutter and a poster printer. 3D printers are becoming more affordable and more common (though we don’t have one of those). Between those two resources and student work (see below) I think I have one poster in my room that I purchased – and it was one that I purchased *before* I became a teacher. It just happens to work well in the classroom!
Room decorations: USE STUDENT WORK. In fact, you may even deliberately leave large sections blank so that when you put work up, the students are more curious about going to see where theirs is. If you can have students do some of their work in bright colors, this works even better. I personally prefer crayons to markers or colored pencils just because the SMELL of the crayons takes me back to when I was little. But, if you have access to a variety of materials, I’d suggest rotating through rather than having them all available every time; this sort of enforced scarcity can increase engagement.
Pens/pencils: Check the floor during transition times. When your students leave the room for another class, or at the end of the day, do a quick walk-through and pick up any discards. Use these as loaners. I’ve built up enough of a stash that I don’t even loan them anymore; I just tell students who ask for one that they can keep it.
Other materials: Make a list, and call parents. I strongly suggest calling individually at the beginning of each term, rather than sending home a photocopy. First of all, it personalizes the request, which often gets better results. Second, it allows you to introduce yourself and answer questions the parents may have, creating a positive connection for your first interaction. This is super helpful if you have to make a less-positive call later on!
The ONLY place I would suggest splurging is for materials that are solely for your use. Maybe you have your eye on a colorful binder or planner, or you love pens in bright colors with smooth ink flow (I highly recommend the Pentel EnerGel!) or you want a bag in your school colors.
Treat yo’self, but remember that your employer is supposed to pay you, not the other way around!