my boss wanted to go over my personal budget

A reader writes:

I’ve recently returned to the teaching field. While I know there are plenty of stories about the budget woes of teachers, my prior experience wasn’t so bad.

The school year is approaching and I have been trying to get my class in order. My principal asked for a list of requested supplies and items, and I gave her what I thought was a modest list, the basics to get the year rolling.

She got back to me with the information that the teachers at the school usually paid for such things themselves. I asked if I did have a budget and was told it was “more of a discretionary fund and it looked better to the community if the teachers pitched in more.” Further talk revealed this pitching in was to the tune of several thousand dollars per teacher.

Yeah, no. First, I believe strongly this habit of teachers buying things has got to go. Second, while my husband and I aren’t hurting by any means, we do have a lot going on and paying three thousand dollars to my job just isn’t in the budget.

Perhaps this was the wrong thing, but I went with Reason Number 2, I didn’t have the money to pay for these supplies.

She nodded in understanding, said she knew how things could be, and that she recommended I bring in my household budget to go over with her — she was quite certain she could find the money.

I wasn’t sure how to respond, so I gave a simple no, I would figure it out myself.

I don’t want to use this letter to scream at the state of public education funding, but wow, am I wrong to be horrified and shocked my boss would want to go over my personal budget?


That is shocking, and it’s horrible.

And yes, most people have heard awful stories about teachers needing to buy supplies for their classrooms with their own personal funds — which is itself an upsetting commentary on how unwilling we are to properly fund public education and how much we devalue teachers — but this is a new level of awful.

It would be one thing if your principal had approached this differently — for example, saying, “I’m so sorry but we can’t afford to supply most of this. We can supply X and Y but teachers are usually on their own for the rest of the items on your list. I wish that weren’t the case — our budget is really tight.” That’s still not great, but it would at least acknowledge that this is messed up.

But telling you that it “looks better to the community” if teachers pay for routine classroom supplies themselves is gross. (Maybe your community really does think that, but she doesn’t need to buy into it.) And suggesting that she go over your budget for you (so that she can, what, tell you to spend less on eating out and oh, look, a latte habit when you should be funding your employer’s business expenses) … WTF. That’s offensive.

I wish I had advice for you beyond just telling you that you’re right to be horrified.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 773 comments… read them below }

  1. Lena Clare*

    Yep, you’re right to be horrified.
    I was a teacher, and I frequently bought stuff for the classroom… but I never had my boss want to go over my personal budget to find finances to cover a work expense. It’s completely gross, and she’s bang out of order.

    1. QuestJen*

      My daughter is set to graduate college in 2 years and become an elementary school teacher (she wants kindergarten /1st). Since she’ll have zilch stating out to outfit her first classroom, I’m trying to set aside a short of “dowry” for this. I was told that $1000 would be about right. For the teachers reading this, does this sound to low? From the sound of this article, maybe I’m WAY too low?

      1. Hope*

        Depends how many art supplies she’ll need to supply herself, if she needs a collection of books for students to read, will she have to supply her own paper, etc., and what her class size will be. $1000 would be pretty awesome, but it goes FAST depending how much you have to supply yourself.

        1. Former Teacher*

          Well, that is a lot but I spent that much & possibly more when I set up my first classroom. I had nothing but student desks, a teacher work space and empty bulletin boards. My first year I bought all the furniture for a reading nook, rugs, bookshelves, posters & all my bulletin boards. And that was just the big stuff. Throughout the year I also bought supplies for projects, snacks since most kids didn’t have them provided, hygiene items like Kleenex, germ-x and Clorox wipes, plus basically anything else I needed. I also supplied my own paper & made copies at a office owned by a family member as we were only allowed to make 200 copies per month and with a class of 20 that went within one week. Of course, once I had a bulletin board, or a project kit, I could reuse them year after year, but even after I set up my classroom I spent well over 1000.00 per year myself. One of the reasons I left teaching…..

          1. DC Cliche*

            Former K and 2nd teacher — It depends a lot but she can/should pace herself about investment pieces over shiny things. The district likely will provide some of the basics; focus on supplementing vs. upgrading things she doesn’t like. For instance, they will almost assuredly have a rug, which will be stained and faded, but don’t spend 500 the first year buying a new one. If they don’t have a smart board, buy a nice projector for the whiteboard instead. Buy canvas cubbie sacks, on-grade-level books, etc., instead of water play stations, anything that’s a “kit” — let her figure out what she needs and loves and resonates. And a lot of people will try to give her art supplies; those are terrible and should be banned.

            1. Scarlet Magnolias*

              Have a friend at your local library who will go thru donated books for you and pull children’s books in good condition. I do this for my daughter in law.

              1. Mama Bear*

                Or be friendly with a librarian who may pull books or give you advanced reader copies.

                1. valentine*

                  And a lot of people will try to give her art supplies; those are terrible and should be banned.

                2. bonkerballs*

                  @valentine – when I was working at a preschool, the amount of people who would come by to donate “art supplies” – and by that I mean old, dry markers their own children had used twenty years ago, bit of broken crayons, glue bottles with maybe half an inch of glue left in them, etc, etc, etc – was truly astounding. It’s garbage. We’re not a garbage can, so please don’t make me throw your shit away for you.

              2. Librarian of SHIELD*

                I do the same for my cousin. Our used children’s books are 50 cents each, so anything in the right age range in good condition, I snag for her.

              3. Not So NewReader*

                A library near me has book sales. Either the kids books are free or if the person says they are a teacher, they can take whatever they want.

              4. tink*

                I do this for my friends so they don’t spend as much on nice hardback picturebooks. When we weed stuff I go through and buy things I think they’d like and gift them if they want them.

              5. Quill*

                I was the part time librarian for my mom’s classroom: I shuffled middle grade ARCs from my college and local librarians right into the fifth grade.

                Also spent a decent amount of time combing through garage sales for secondhand books – got really good at “this is above grade level but still appropriate for their age,” vs. “I read this at twelve but probably should not have.”

                When you get into older books especially, there’s a huge issue with everything written ‘for kids’ getting lumped in together, whether it’s firmly YA, or if it’s a children’s classic with some difficult vocabulary due to age. But when you get into newer books it can be hard to find things for younger-than-tween advanced readers, because they might not be ready for some of the more common YA topics.

              1. many bells down*

                Yuuuppp. I bought art supplies for my class once and the next day they were all gone. Another teacher said “oh I thought they were for everyone”. Sure, Janet, the school bought supplies for just 12 kids in one classroom.

          2. My Alter Ego is Taller*

            I don’t understand how schools can even let teachers buy things like furniture and rugs. That’s a huge liability risk. What if a piece of furniture doesn’t meet current ADA standards, and a parent files a federal case? What if a cabinet isn’t anchored to the wall properly and falls on a kid? What if a hook holds too much weight before it breaks, letting a child get caught off the ground by their backpack strap and strangle? What if a rug doesn’t meet the state’s requirements for anti-microbials, or zero phthalates or PVC, or anything else that can not only be a health issue but can result in fines and withholding of future state funding?
            If you’re letting teachers purchase these items independently then you’d better be training all your teachers on every regulation pertaining to those items.

            1. Librarian of SHIELD*

              In that case, I’m betting the school district would try to avoid liability by throwing the teacher directly under the bus.

              1. MatKnifeNinja*

                My district was all about the dog and pony show.

                They’d pitch that teacher under the bus with both hands.

                Also be careful funding raising too. Anything fund raised for a classroom becomes school property in my old district. My teacher friend fund raised for a kidney table and bookshelves. When she left for a district middle school, she could not take those with her. It got UGLY.

                All I can say is take pictures and keep your purchase receipts. People thieve like it’s garbage day, and they are all pickers.

                1. No real name here*

                  If you fundraise through DonorsChoose, then it is property of the teacher. I have this on authority of several teachers I know. DonorsChoose is only for high-poverty schools, however.

                2. ScienceTeacherHS*

                  No more nesting, but to No real name here —

                  The DonorsChoose Materials Ownership policy actually states that teachers keep items if they move within the school, but if they switch schools materials stay with the school unless: (1) the teacher is moving to another public school AND (2) the principal at the first school says it’s ok.

                3. No real name here*

                  Good to know, thank you for clarifying my error. My teacher roommate and her friends only worked within the context of the same school when I lived with her.

            2. Quill*

              As a teacher’s kid I’m laughing at the idea that schools meet ADA or environmental standards at all… I went to a high school without enough classrooms or lockers, where the roof leaked and you doubled your passing time by attempting to use an elevator, and we were the “good” school in our district, i.e. the one with the higher property tax base.

              My mom taught at a school where they couldn’t do any electrical, plumbing, or air conditioning updates because if they confirmed there was asbestos the district would be legally required to do something about it.

              1. School Architect*

                ADA is federal legislation that is basically enforced by lawsuit. If no lawyer comes through and discovers existing violations then they can stay for years – maybe forever. But if one decides to target your building then watch out. There is no grandfather clause for anybody, and every building that accommodates the public is subject to this random enforcement. There are predatory lawyers who make a living out of picking a building or a neighborhood, bringing a handicapped person with them on a tour of it, and suing every building owner for every identified violation. Teachers putting stuff in their classrooms could inadvertently create hundreds or thousands of violations (think marker board mounted too high, rug too thick, cabinet with wrong type of door hardware…) School districts have been ordered to pay millions for their lists of violations, after one of these lawyers has done a sweep.

                1. Banana Pancakes*

                  There are some exceptions, though. Religiously run schools are exempted from ADA compliance, as are private clubs and businesses with <15 employees.

                  The ADA also has very little to say about schools in general.

          3. Tiara Wearing Princess*

            This makes me so angry. 200 pieces of paper per month!! I agree, teachers and parents need to push back hard on this. teachers are underpaid and are expected to pick up the slack from the school’s underfunded budget?! OUTRAGEOUS.

            1. Life is Good*

              What makes me most angry about all this is that taxpayers just don’t want to support schools properly! At least in my red state. My husband is a teacher and flatly refuses to spend personal money on classroom supplies. He is paid little as it is, then to expect him to cough up $ to supply stuff for kids who have cars supplied by their parents so they can drive 1 1/2 blocks to school is ridiculous. Once, he approached a state legislator about funding and was told that “Teaching is a calling. The money should be secondary.” What? These students are future taxpayers. They need an education. Appropriate learning environments (including needed supplies) should be a given. Grrrrrr.

              1. not a teacher*

                Good for your husband. I think it is ridiculous that the supplies are not provided by the district.

              2. Phoebe*

                I’m disgusted by that legislator. Medicine is a calling, too. Does he think doctors shouldn’t be paid?

                1. Autumnheart*

                  Public service is a calling too. Let’s reallocate that legislator’s paycheck to school supplies.

                2. SarahKay*

                  @ Autumnheart – that’s exactly my sentiment on the subject too.
                  We see it in the UK with nurses salaries, where the elected government wouldn’t give them raises because “it’s a calling” but will happily vote themselves raises that are significantly above inflation. Grrr, it just makes my blood boil!

                3. TinLizi*

                  That’s a lot of the reason I left teaching. Since it was “a calling,” I was expected to dedicate every waking moment and every spare bit of money I had to it. It felt like I could be shortchanged on support, time, money, everything, because they counted on the fact that I cared about the students to make it work somehow. I felt like my compassion and dedication was being used against me. When I talked about leaving, someone even told me that I couldn’t, because I had a moral obligation to remain a teacher, since I was good at it.

              3. Kelsi*

                “Teaching is a calling. If you love it enough, you’ll transcend the need to do things like eat and live in a house.”

                At least, that’s what I assume they mean when they say shit like that.

                Another teacher’s kid here. The demands put on teachers are outrageous given the salaries involved.

              4. Jill March*

                Funny how jobs that are predominantly done by women tend to be “callings.” Teaching, nursing, social work… what am I missing?

        2. Little Tin Goddess*

          If you are on Facebook amd have an Amazon Prime account, search for Amazon deals and codes and coupon groups, you can pick up different things like various school supplies for very cheap. It will help.

          1. AnnaBananna*

            As someon on Prime, I VERY RARELY find anything in the deals category that is actually less than where I’d get it locally. It’s actually really absurd. And don’t even get me started about the lightning deals.

          2. TardyTardis*

            Staples will let teachers buy more than the regular limit on their back to school stuff.

        3. Kimberly*

          Books for a classroom library are a huge expense for starting elementary teachers. I would suggest that she start building that now. If you have a 1/2 Price Book or similar chain near you, I would recommend buying a few books there each week to build a library.

          1. Iris Eyes*

            Question, if schools have libraries and communities have libraries then why do classrooms also have libraries? I could see the teacher checking books out to use and as an avid book lover I do want books to be available but why must teachers have their own separate supply?

            1. Autumnheart*

              Because there might only be one copy in the library, and more than one person who wants to use it at the same time, obviously.

            2. Chocoholic*

              Kind of the same reason you might have a personal library at home. The book you want or need might not be available at the library at the time you want or need it. Multiply times 25-30. Kids in the same grade are all at different reading levels and a teacher needs a variety of books available for kids to read. When they have free time or are done with their work, reading is a great way to occupy themselves for a while until the teacher is ready to move to the next thing.

            3. Decima Dewey*

              A lot of schools don’t have libraries anymore, and the community library has to help. Which we are willing to do, if we know in advance that an entire class needs to read “Fergus and Fergusina Burned Popcorn in the Microwave”, and there are only 3 copies in the entire system.

            4. AMPG*

              In-class reading. Students in the lower grades will go through multiple short books a week, and one library period per week won’t cut it.

            5. Lizardbreath*

              At least at my kids’ school, there are times of day when it’s not feasible to walk the whole class over to the library, but it’s common to have 15 minutes of free reading here and there or have the option for kids who finish another activity early.

              In addition, my kids go to a language immersion school so “homework” often involves reading books in the target language and parents don’t necessarily have a lot of books in the target language at home, so the teachers let the kids take classroom books home with them.

              1. Iris Eyes*

                A library has books for all age levels (or for broader reading levels, not that I subscribe to that line of thinking after 2nd grade.) Don’t kids have storage space of some sort in the classroom? Why can’t they procure books from the library and keep them there?

                If all the books are from the school library then why shouldn’t students who want to recommend and sub lend books to their friends/classmates?

                I’m not against teachers having books about certainly but it seems much more optional and far easier to get around another way.


                1. E.*

                  I’m a second grade teacher. The school library lets kids check out 2 books a week and if they haven’t returned the previous books they don’t get to check any out. We read at various points throughout the day, every single day. If I didn’t my own classroom library there wouldn’t be enough or enough variety! I do supplement with books from the public library on a specific topic, but I honestly try to limit it because it’s a lot to keep track of when different books are due, if a kid accidentally ripped a page or dropped it behind a shelf and now we can’t find it, etc and then I have to pay late fees. Especially in elementary school, the classroom library is one of the most important aspects of a room and where the most learning happens.

                2. EikaPrime*

                  Public librarian here, working in the kid’s section; I interact with teachers on a regular basis and have many things to say. But let’s look at school libraries.

                  It’s recommended that a school library have X books per student; the exact number’s changed several times over the years, based on various studies, but I believe it’s always been between 10-30, with younger grades needing more books. It’s also recommended that every book be under 10 years old. If every book costs $10, and the library book budget is $1,000 you can get 100 books each year. Most books cost more than $10. My area is poor–roughly half the school-aged kids are eligible for the free/reduced-price lunch program–and the library budget at each elementary school is less than $2,000. Each elementary school has about 500 students. And the library’s supposed to have books for every kid to read for fun AND to help them in every subject AND for everything they want to write a report on.

                  There’s a reason my public library lets teachers check out as many books as they want, help them find extras, and extend their check-out dates. There’s no way for the school libraries to do all of it, and they can’t afford to bulk their classroom libraries that much.

            6. Nic*

              In my primary school, the classroom bookshelves were for fiction of the right general level for the kids in that class, while the school library was for non-fiction/reference books that you might use for a project. When I got to secondary school we didn’t have class libraries at all, just the school library (plus of course, your assigned textbooks from each subject).

          2. Booksarecool*

            If you have a Half Price Books and you are a teacher, you can often get donated books. Every store is just swimming in kids books during the summer, and you can also go through the corporate website to ask for donations too. All you need to get donated books is a tax id from your school. They also have a 10% discount for teachers.

          3. Brett*

            Try contacting locals who run Little Free Libraries as well.

            My wife runs one, and she gets a crazy amount of donations to it. In addition to a current full library, she also stocks books to a half dozen other libraries that are less trafficked, and has three storage crates full of books sitting in our storage room for restocking. The majority of these are children’s books, and they are all at least in good condition (if they are damaged, she recycles them). A crazy amount of Caldecott and Newberry winners go through her inventory.

            (And after reading this, I’m going to suggest that she contact local K-6 teachers when she has a surplus of children’s books.)

      2. RoadsLady*

        I actually am not sure. I’ve had the fortune of working for districts that give decent budgets, plus state money.

        I’ve never paid more than a hundred a year on my own classroom, and that was for my own fun.

        I have heard of people who easily spend thousands, though.

        1. TootsNYC*

          I kind of think it’s important to NOT spend your own money, because you need to get parents, administrators, etc., thinking accurately about what they are able to provide.

          1. Ellen N.*

            There could be unintended consequences to teachers not buying classroom supplies. When teachers begin their teaching careers they are on probation. They can be fired for any/no cause. There is a huge emphasis on test results. If each student doesn’t have textbooks/paper/pens/pencils the test results are likely to be low. If the teacher gets fired (at least in Los Angeles), he/she will not be hired at another school. This means that the money he/she spent on his/her college education will have been wasted.

            My husband is a teacher. On his first day in the classroom he was given one pencil per student and one ream of paper. He asked when he would get more. He was told, “Next year.”.

            Every time we filed our taxes; I was shocked at how much he spent on classroom supplies. Now, with the recent tax plan overhaul unreimbursed employee expenses aren’t deductible.

            1. rs*

              The tax changes still allow a deduction specifically for unreimbursed expenses for educators, but only up to $250. This is unchanged from before the recent overhaul, and unfortunately $250 doesn’t go far if your district is pushing expenses off on its employees this way (plus it’s a deduction, not a credit, meaning that you only get back a fraction of that $250 depending on your tax bracket).

              I’m fortunate that I work in a sane district that wouldn’t expect us to spend money out-of-pocket on basics like this (and where most of the parents are able to supply their own students), so I don’t hit this limit.

        2. I hate coming up with usernames*

          It also depends on the socioeconomic status of your students’ families. I teach in a very impoverished area, so I have many students where if I don’t provide them with a notebook, pencil, etc., then they won’t have one.

          1. Candace G*

            And with the crap salaries they pay teachers, this is beyond outrageous. No teacher should have to lay out their own money. I know they do. My sister is a teacher. But I would not, absolutely. Which partly explains why I do not teach. I did, briefly, part time. But I don’t like bring taken advantage of. The school district needs to figure out how to meet bare minimums. Short of that, the parents could be asked to contribute (and are, I know). I know many parents do not have the money. So go to the darn media, set up a huge publicity stink, anything. But teachers who often work multiple jobs, tend bar, work retail, tutor, etc because they can’t even feed themselves – they should never, ever be forced to pay for tons of supplies. Yes, I know this is not how things are, but how things are sucks. Completely.

            1. TinLizi*

              The problem with asking parents, is that depending on the district, they genuinely may not be able to. In California, it was decided if public education was truly going to be free to the public, that had to include supplies. You can tell students what supplies they need, but if they can’t afford them, they have to be provided for them. I’m not sure where the money for those supplies comes from.

          2. AnnieB*

            My experience: plenty of parents who have the money still don’t bother providing pencils for their children.

      3. Eve's Husband's Mustache*

        When a friend of mine graduated and was about to start teaching elementary, her parents threw a graduation party and asked invitees to contribute children’s books for her new classroom. The job she had lined up was in a low-income inner-city school that didn’t have the budget to provide books, decor, etc (don’t get me started on how horrible that is, or how the San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez decision is an abomination). So, her mom specified appropriate age level and asked for new or gently used books that represented diverse populations, etc.

        Most people still gave a gift for the graduate and then gave a book as a card (To Miss LastName and her class, in hopes that they love learning, Best Wishes, FriendName).

        I thought it was a cool way for all of us to help her start building her classroom library (even though, again, in a better world she wouldn’t have to do this herself).

        1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

          Oh I love this so much.
          I don’t love that you have to do this in the first place, but what a lovely idea.

          1. AnnaBananna*

            I just did too. But are we really surprised? It’s the South in the 70’s. I would be curious to see how this held up if it was tried today.

            1. dawnsname*

              Unfortunately it still exists in many places, including here in Ohio. School districts here are constantly having to campaign for additional levies because of this model of funding, and the districts in wealthier areas are like private schools while students in poorer districts are deprived of basic needs.

            2. nonymous*

              It’s an issue even in my own progressive state, where our constitution mandates providing access to education as the highest priority. It took 5 years after the McCleary Decision to start seeing structural changes to funding and it won’t be until the 2019-20 school year that students will see benefit. Even some of the loudest advocates of access for all are just now waking up to the idea that moderately high income areas can’t just levy their way into greater opportunity for their kids. Of course the really high income earners are just sending their children to private schools.

      4. Eleanor Konik*

        It *really* depends on where you live. In some schools near me, the PTA pays for *everything* including personal microwaves/fridges for each teacher. In others? Spending that much money is just a recipe for everything getting stolen or ruined.

          1. Eleanor Konik*

            Kids are kids.

            95% of my students are amazing, wonderful little humans, but every year there are one or two that, I don’t know, think it’s fine to take things from a teacher’s desk or think there’s some sort of social cachet in ruining a teacher’s decor or gets angry and busts something up. Even the youngest, sweetest kids do stuff like accidentally spill a drink all over your desk or throw one of those big erasers or a book across the room and break something.

      5. Black Bellamy*

        Oh my god. Zero is the right amount. Please stop perpetuating this system. People need to push back on this.

          1. Ann Nonymous*

            My suggestion is to work with the budget and items the school provides and that’s it.

            1. fposte*

              Which sounds great until you see that you’re dealing with kids who don’t have basic resources and that you could enhance your impact and your work environment by spending out of pocket.

              The system inarguably sucks, and I don’t begrudge any teacher who decides they won’t spend their own money, but I don’t think it’s an activist move that will change things, either; I wouldn’t make the decision based on the idea that it will.

              1. Marmaduke*

                When I worked in schools, the “refuse to spend in order to force the district to step up” movement just served to show that nobody in charge of our district’s budget cared one iota about the actual kids. I wanted to teach, and teach well, so I spent.

              2. AnnaBananna*

                Yep. Sadly, this type of reaction will only impact the students, not the district. And I distinctly remember in the 80’s the first year that students were responsible for their own supplies, including textbooks. All the families were shocked, but we all worked it out. I had no idea that teachers were being forced to pay out of pocket (outside of things that they wanted to go above and beyond on, like, I dunno, some bean bag chairs) until today. I think I would have been disoncerted even as a child if I had known that my teachers were personally paying for my supplies and books. I don’t understand it. If it’s legally required for kids to go to school, we should make it legally required for the government to find a way to fund at least the basic standards. I think we’ve just been complacent way too long.

                AMA – thank you so much for linking to that donation website! I donated to a program that aligned with my heart and interests. :)

              3. catlaughing*

                How can things change when people continue to prop up a corrupt system?

                When I spent my money, my principal teacher was thrilled that she didn’t have to. When I stopped, money was found from the school budget.

                (I will confess I still bought luxuries for the kids, but holding out on buying necessities DID cause necessities to come into being)

            2. Librarian of SHIELD*

              The school where I used to work supplies each teacher with one pencil for each student in August, and then again in January. Two pencils per student each year. How, exactly, would you recommend a person teach when their students get two pencils a year?

              1. Dust Bunny*

                Do kids not provide their own supplies any more? We always had to bring our own paper, pencils, and folders, and a few other things. The list wasn’t huge and we usually could reuse bat least some things year-to-year. I think I used the same 3-ring binders all the way through high school.

                1. Jules the 3rd*

                  Some do, some don’t. If you’re in a district that can only afford 2 pencils/year/student, the students are probably struggling to get food, much less pencils and notebooks.

                  My kid’s school (magnet, 44% free/reduced lunch) has a recommended list for parents. What comes in is pooled / shared back to the class, and the PTA helps with shortfalls. I think the teacher and PTA work together on books. I’m fine with supporting the other kids, I just wish we did it through taxes. Wider reach / bulk buy efficiency.

                2. Dahlia*

                  I don’t think most second graders have jobs.

                  Kids generally don’t “provide” their own school supplies, with few exceptions. What do you propose a child with an abusive parent who won’t buy them school supplies do? Or one who has to choose between school supplies and food?

                3. Another teacher*

                  Even with a list, a lot of kids don’t bring in any supplies. My first year at the school I currently teach at I made my supply list very basic. It was like two notebooks, a three ring binder, and pencils with erasers. Not a single kid brought in any supplies, and one parent got mad at me for telling them they had to buy anything.
                  If I don’t buy supplies for my students, they don’t have supplies.

                4. Oxford Comma*

                  Some children are getting their only meals through school lunch programs. Not everyone can afford supplies.

                5. nonymous*

                  My parents didn’t believe in supplies much beyond paper and pencil. So usually I would just have to do without until the first parent-teacher conference and they saw what the other kids had (and how well I was doing) then maybe I could get some supplies as part of Xmas loot. I mean after awhile I did accumulate a set of school supplies that I could reuse from year to year, and in high school I had to do math homework at school in order to check out the graphing calculator.

                  My parents were not poor, this was just a principled position they took. Basically they had a very limited exposure to education in their own childhood and then there was a layer of weak instincts thrown in. With a strong mistrust of authority and convention in the mix.

              2. Angie Baby, Special Lady*

                My kids’ schools give parents a list in late May detailing what the kid needs to provide for the new school year in September. There is the option of giving the PTA a check for $45 and they will buy everything on the list and the kid will start school with a box on their desk; otherwise parents are to use the list for ‘back to school shopping’ and the kid brings the stuff in on the first day of school. Folders, notebooks, 6 pack of tissues, hand sanitizer, whiteboard markers, construction paper, graph paper, pencils, pens, crayons, markers, book covers. These items are all kept in the classroom, so they are pooled for class use.

                1. Phoebe*

                  Our town is 50% free & reduced lunch, with a huge ESL population. Still, teachers get what they need, because the ones who can afford to send in extra do for those who don’t have it. Teachers email wish lists periodically throughout the year, and that way they’re not stuck. Also our school committees make sure the budget is as good as possible, and the PTOs provide extras like field trips & chromebooks.

                  Everyone benefits when the schools have what they need. It’s all about attitude. Thank goodness for Massachusetts.

          2. RandomU...*

            Do what the LW did and say no. Then refuse to go over the personal budget with the principal/boss.

            Honestly, this is exactly the situation for pushing back as a group. I truly don’t understand why teachers allow this to go on. Don’t spend the money and find alternatives (granted, I’m the curmudgeon that doesn’t think that class rooms need all the decorations.)

            Do without.

            I’m not against private purchases for some work supplies. But I feel like the teacher spending is out of control. (I’m sure they do to). So that’s why I’ve always been really confused why it still goes on.

            1. DataGirl*

              They allow it to go on because they care about their students. If I worked with kids and they didn’t have food, pencils, or books I wouldn’t stop myself from buying those things just because I don’t like the current system.

              1. RandomU...*

                And I get that, but then there’s the choice that these teachers made.

                In this case the teacher (OP) is not making that choice to spend (and I totally agree with that). The answer to the request by the principal about the budget review is a resounding no. I’m going to assume teachers union here, so if there’s any blow back then grieve.

                It’s kind of that simple.

                1. Susana*

                  No it is not the teachers’ choice. Even in unionized districts (which every one of my teacher family members is in), teachers have to buy their own supplies.
                  The only choice is not to teach.
                  I’m going to assume you’re saying this because it’s so hard to believe a professional teacher would be expected to buy, essentially, office supplies to do her or his job, because yes, that does seem incredible. But it’s true.

              2. Impy*

                Teachers don’t get paid much. Emotionally blackmailing low paid workers to subsidise their employer’s poor choices is not a solution. Principals get paid $80-125k a year apparently. Compared to an average wage of $30k a year for a teacher. So why isn’t OP’s boss putting $3k a year of her substantial salary into classroom supplies?

                1. stephistication1*


                  OP: “Principal, have you looked over your budget to see if you can find money to contribute towards supplies for staff. It would look good to the community if you did.”

                  I had to.

                2. Tuckerman*

                  The average public school teacher salary in this country is just under 60K and the average starting salary is about 39K. That’s not a ton, but it’s not horrible either. Definitely not enough to pay for supplies. I don’t understand why schools are funded locally as opposed to the state collecting and redistributing funds.

                3. Lauren*

                  I would love OP to show up with the assumption that the principle was opting to go over her own finances to find the 3K.

                4. Zillah*

                  I’m not really sure how this is applicable to DataGirl’s post. She’s not defending the system, she’s saying that when the choice is go without or spend her own money, she’d spend her own money.

                5. Jules the 3rd*

                  Your estimate on principal pay is 20K higher than in my area. In my area, principal starting pay is only a little bit above median pay, and about 2x starting ES teacher pay (1.5x starting HS teacher). Since they have a whole school (ie, 20x the # students one teacher has), this isn’t reasonable either.

                  Don’t blame all principals because this one is wildly inappropriate, and because the US education system is broken. Blame the lawmakers who set the budget, and the people who want to undermine US education. Preferably blame them loudly and in large groups rallying at their legislature, and / or in your voting booth.

                6. Impy*

                  Hey Jules the 3rd, in no way was I blaming all principals. I was very specifically blaming *this* principal, who is demanding that her lower paid employees contribute a huge chunk of their salary when she is not doing so, and could more easily afford to do so.

                7. Impy*

                  Zillah: because the implication she’s making, and the one OP’s principal (who according to OP, does in fact have a specific supplies budget) is relying upon, is the perception that teachers who don’t / can’t spend thousands of their own money on their students are *bad* and *don’t care* about their *poor, struggling students.* Sometimes it’s grim necessity. In this case it sounds like a con job. Even the language – “You’re new here. We typically expect a ‘donation’ of $3k,” sounds shady af.

            2. Lena Clare*

              As DataGirl said, they do it because they care about doing a good job and know that a well-resourced classroom is better for their students. It also improves the students’ ability to stay engaged, which improves morale and behaviour, which makes the teacher’s job easier in the long run. So no, it’s not ideal, but teachers are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

              It also isn’t the point of the letter, which was that the LW’s boss expected the LW to contribute to the work budget and then tried to coerce her into it by invading her private finances when the LW rightfully refused.

              1. RandomU...*

                Right which is why I stated the OP sticks to the ‘No’ answer for buying materials and adds an “No” for the budget review.

            3. Lepidoptera*

              Studies show that having an interesting environment, with all the frills that you think the classroom can do without, actually stimulates brain activity and growth.
              This is especially important in the younger years when brain plasticity is hitting its stride.

            4. Susana*

              I’m tempted to say that, too – but we’re not talking wall decorations. We’re talking about paper, chalk – basic stuff a teacher needs to *teach.* And it’s not just in struggling districts. Several people in my family are teachers and I have friends who teach. Every single one – EVERY one – has had to buy supplies, whether in a poor district or a more prosperous one. If teacher is in a more prosperous district, I wold definitely en note home saying they had to pony up X supplies so their kid cold learn. Of course, you’d have to buy the paper for the note home.

              1. Liane*

                “…I would definitely send note home saying they had to pony up X supplies so their kid could learn.”
                This IS THE POLICY in many schools/districts, poor along with well-to-do! My kids went to public schools of varying socio-economic levels, in 2 different states. Every year, every grade, we got LONG lists of what we as parents had to buy–pencils, folders, quart and gallon zipper food-storage bags, crayons, blue/black/red pens, glue, hand sanitizer, rolls (plural) of paper towels, boxes (plural) of facial tissue, coloring pencils, disinfectant wipes, notebook paper, reams (plural) of copy paper, scissors…
                It did vary somewhat by grade and latter, classes, of course. There were many years I don’t think we could have afforded all this for two kids’classes, plus shoes and uniform clothing, except for the generosity of my mother-in-law.

                1. Liane*

                  This doesn’t mean I believe the teachers should be paying for all those things and more!
                  I don’t think either teachers or parents should have to cover these costs. It should all be paid for by the school districts, like used to be.

                2. iglwif*

                  Holy CRAP. Seriously?

                  (Yes, I believe you, why would you say this if it weren’t true? But OMG.)

                  That’s awful.

                3. TootsNYC*

                  we got those lists as well.

                  Kleenex, Post-it Notes, pencils, etc.

                  I always bought double, and sometimes triple, because I knew there were some parents who couldn’t.

                4. Clorinda*

                  Yes, but if a kid shows up without any of that stuff, the teacher finds a way to make do. No child has ever been suspended for coming to school without crayons and a ruler.

                5. Donna*

                  It’s not just something from the old days….I just purchased my 6th graders school supplies yesterday, utilizing Amazon and Walmart Grocery for the best prices. As with K, 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, we receive a list of supplies that we are particularly responsible for for our own child. I bought *the basics* (trust me, I have learned over the last 6 years) and I still spent $78.08 on just the basics yesterday, on that list. That doesn’t include backpack, lunchbox, new sneakers or school clothes. But the alternative would be expecting my school district or teacher(s) to pony up for those supplies x 25 kids in their class.

                6. Devil Fish*

                  @Liane “It should all be paid for by the school districts, like used to be.”

                  How far back are you talking about? I started kindergarten in the late 80s and we had lists of supplies we were expected to buy. My mother said she had supply lists as a student in the 60s. My grandma doesn’t remember supply lists but she went to a rural one-room schoolhouse, so.

                7. beckysuz*

                  Yup! Last year I spent $350+ for my daughters 8th grade supplies. Granted that was including graphing calculator but still. I know for a fact that all the teachers at her school pay for supplies out of pocket even with parents having long lists as well

                8. Lara*

                  Honestly, I think parents might be in a better position to push back against the school budget (as a group) than teachers, because they don’t have jobs on the line. But I think most will either buy the supplies or totally ignore it.

            5. WinniPig*

              While this doesn’t address the issue of basic learning materials, I was always a little shocked at all the clutter on the walls. A few pieces related to lessons done at the time, or maybe some reference posters that a kid stuck on a problem might need, but not walls and shelves full of irrelevant materials.

              As far as a division *expecting* a teacher to contribute – just no. A further no to anyone suggesting that a superior should go over a teacher’s personal budget to “find the money”. Perhaps there is extra money to be found, but that is for the teacher’s personal use!!

              1. Librarian of SHIELD*

                Some of that clutter is required by the state. I have a friend who taught kindergarten who was required by the state’s department of education to post the educational standards and a multitude of other resources on the classroom walls. In kindergarten, where most of the students can’t even read for the first half of the year.

              2. Devil Fish*

                If you want to cry yourself to sleep because we’re truly living in a grimdark nightmare dystopian hellscape, find a teaching forum and browse the list of fun crafts teachers are making to decorate their classrooms.

                Keep scrolling until you realize how popular bespoke handmade window-coverings for lockdown drills are. Because the schools require the window on the classroom door to be covered (so students won’t be shot through the window) but they don’t contribute anything to do that with. A lot of teachers have posted stories about frantically taping scrap paper over the window during a lockdown or standing at the door themselves and holding their coat over the window because they didn’t have any other way to cover it.

            6. Jenny Grace*

              I think the problem with the ‘do without’ suggestion is that the people who ultimately do without are….the kids. And usually in wealthier areas, parents will step in to pay, but in lower income schools, the kids, well, do without.
              It’s a terrible system but the reason teachers perpetuate it is because they care about the kids they are teaching.

              1. Mimi Me*

                A friend of mine teaches 1st grade at a public school in a town that has a very high low income population as well as a lot of immigrants. She says that some of these families are really struggling to get by and things like paper and pens are luxury items. Her own household budget is stretched pretty thin so it’s hard to fill in the gaps for her students. She gets creative – asks classmates of her kids for their leftover supplies, hits up yard sales and flea markets for furniture and decor, and her birthday every year guarantees her a backpack or two of supplies. It’s sad though that these lower income kids have to make do with castoffs just to get an education.

                1. AnnieB*

                  In my school, the lower income kids always have their supplies. Which isn’t a lot, just pencils, a folder and a copybook. The better-off kids regularly show up with no bag. The immigrant parents value education and will make sure their children have what they need, the wealthier parents are entitlement central.

                  I started out my teaching career refusing on principle to bring pencils, erasers, extra paper, for the kids who didn’t bring their own. I soon realised spending my own money was the simplest way to keep my classroom moving smoothly.

              2. Impy*

                It reminds me of food banks / pantries. It’s disgusting that they exist in the 21st century but in the meantime it’s good that they do so people don’t starve.

            7. Nanani*

              They’re not talking about decorations, they’re talking about writing implements and paper to write with them. Scissors and erasers. Basic-ass stuff that children will break, lose, and wear out faster than adults with equivalent office supplies would.

            8. PPMarigold*

              In my experience teachers’ performance is judged on metrics they couldn’t possibly meet without classroom supplies. You must have a decent classroom environment to teach, and that hinges on supplies. Your students must meet their benchmarks for the year they were in your classroom if you want to keep your job, get raises, or have any sort of career mobility.

              So often times it’s not just an ethical or moral dilemma. It’s survival.

            9. Librarian of SHIELD*

              My entire state’s teaching staff tried that whole “pushing back as a group” thing. They lost. There is no more money for adequate supplies.

              It continues to go on because the state legislatures that determine the budget for the department of education DO NOT CARE.

              1. RandomU...*

                Then I truly have nothing else to offer. The OP said they were pushing back… they later said there is a budget for supplies and nobody uses it.

                The only other advice for the OP more than what they are doing is to get out of teaching.

                I mean I hear what you all are saying, but if your entire state’s teaching staff just stopped paying out of pocket are they all going to be fired? If an entire school district did this… what would the result be?

                I’m reminded of a discussion I had with my husband city employed firefighter. He was complaining how old his mattress at the station was, and I finally asked him if it was worth it to go buy a new one on discount somewhere. He told me no, that was a terrible idea, because if the city ever figured out that the firefighters were willing to spend their own money they’d find a way to use the budget money somewhere else and they’d be stuck buying the necessities. Sound familiar?

                I get it, that it’s a philosophic exercise, but at the end of the day teacher’s spending their own money is known by every teacher that gets into the business. That’s what they are signing up for. It’s also true that some teachers put way more pressure on themselves for what others called ‘pintrest perfect’ classrooms or going way above and beyond the norm (which sets the bar higher for others). Other teachers, buy things for convenience or spend more money than necessary for other reasons.

                1. RandomU...*


                  I’m sure it does. But nobody here has offered any solution to the problem. I don’t mean to be callous, but at least it’s realistic. And it also doesn’t mean that I necessarily agree with it. But can you come up with a solution for the OP?

                2. Anax*

                  I hate to say this, but… Yes, they would all be fired.

                  I’m from Wisconsin, and a lot of my relatives are teachers. From what they’ve said, there’s always more prospective teachers than jobs – so the districts are happy to get rid of anyone who doesn’t toe the party line.

                  Teachers aren’t legally allowed to engage in collective action in Wisconsin anymore – they tried, to the tune of 100,000 people actively protesting, and they lost. From what my cousin’s said, a lot of the active union organizers got punished afterward, because they no longer had any protection.

                  Things are probably different in other areas, but… In some places, yeah, they would absolutely just replace anyone who didn’t toe the party line.

                3. LQ*

                  Vote. The thing you can actually do that matters is YOU call your state representatives and tell them that this is entirely unacceptable.

                  It matters way more when a Not Teacher does it than when a Teacher does it. So get out and vote out the people who think that it’s ok to dump this expense on teachers. Vote in people who support teachers not having to personally bankroll schools. That’s the action you should take.

                4. Jules the 3rd*

                  The piece you’re missing is that there has been a concerted effort to undermine public education in the US for at least the last decade, as part of the whole ALEC / Koch brothers agenda. The public union suppression work in WI and other midwestern states is part of this agenda, and teachers were probably the target they were trying to hit.

                  For more variations on the theme, look up Art Pope / Bob Luddy in the Independent Weekly for the pilot project they’ve been doing in North Carolina: undermining Wake Co schools since they… contributed heavily to… the 2010 election, so that they can make money through Luddy’s private schools, Thales Academy.

                  The only way out is the ballot box and constant regular conversations with your state legislature about the importance of funding public education, including teacher salaries, reasonable classroom sizes, and supplies.

                  Individual teachers just have to hold the line where they can.

                5. Anax*

                  @Jules the 3rd

                  Yep, that’s about the shape of it. The enormous gerrymandering doesn’t help either; I was so upset when the Supreme Court punted on Gill v. Whitford.

                  I’m across the country now so I have very little power over the Midwest, but… god, it’s an exhausting fight.

                6. Librarian of SHIELD*

                  It’s not about whether the teachers will be fired for not spending their own money on supplies. There’s nothing in a standard teaching contract that requires it, so I’m guessing probably not. The point is that you cannot teach students if they do not have anything to read or anything to write on or write with. You cannot teach students if the teaching materials you are given by the school district are so outdated that the information they contain is incorrect (remember the story last year about the little girl in Oklahoma whose history book was used by Blake Shelton in 1982? He wasn’t even the first student who used that book).

                  I come from a family of teachers. I almost became one myself. I hate the fact that my relatives and friends can’t do their jobs effectively without spending their own money. But the answer isn’t just “stop spending your own money,” because the only thing that gets us is classrooms where kids can’t learn effectively. The answer is write letters and make phone calls to your state legislature. Even, and especially, if you do not have kids attending your local schools. The appalling lack of respect afforded to students and educators alike will only change if the people who make our laws can be made to understand that education doesn’t just matter to children. It matters to society as a whole, and it’s up to all of us to save it.

                7. Devil Fish*

                  Did your husband ever get a new mattress though?

                  Or did he just do without because there was never any money in the budget for new mattresses at all? That’s sort of closer to the teaching situation, if firefighters were also expected to provide their own sheets for the old gross mattresses, and their own pillows.

                  “Just go without.” Christ.

                8. nonegiven*

                  Get him a thick mattress protector that he can roll up and take home with him every shift. Some of those things are several inches thick.

                9. Maestra*


                  Holy moly, I’m a teacher living in Wake Co. and have colleagues who used to work at Thales. I knew NOTHING about this. Going to read up on this insanity.

                10. Kelly*

                  I’m sure most schools in the US could fund classroom school supplies. However, that would mean that they would have less money to spend on sports and redundant administrative positions. It’s really telling when the district you attend has money to spend on a new baseball field, but there’s not money for the more expensive college textbooks for AP classes. The baseball team was really awful too, while on the other hand, the school got awards for student academic performance. The teachers who did teach the AP classes did their best to fill in the gaps, including having enough copies of recommended supplemental reading material in the classroom for us.

                  It’s telling that non-public safety workers, including teachers, are expected to spend money out of their own pocket to do their job. At least when my mom taught in the early 2000s, some of the money she spent she was able to use as a tax write off. I’m not sure if that’s possible anymore. I work in the public sector and I’m expected to supply pens, pencils, and kleenexes. Anything I bring in is kept in my office for my own use. I know that I’d be buying replacement pens and pencils too frequently given how often we have patrons asking for them.

            10. CatMintCat*

              As a teacher I know that there is huge expectations from within the system and the community outside, that we will spend our own money and time on our classrooms. We are, after all, “in it for the kids” and nothing is too much cost or trouble for the kids in our class.

              Trouble is, many of us have kids of our own, like living indoors and eating cooked meals, and need to spend our money that we earn on our own families, not other people’s. I’ve reached a point where I draw a firm line in the sand on what I will spend (ie, not much) but I’ve seen others go completely over the top.

              1. RUKiddingMe*

                “…need to spend our money that we earn on our own families, not other people’s.”


            11. Chem Teacher*

              It’s not always the cute decor and “extras”. I decorated my classroom with hand cut images from construction paper, I bought extra supplies at the dollar store. But I still spent a lot because I spent all of my money on lab supplies. You can’t teach chemistry on a $0 lab budget. Even with only buying grocery store items to sub for “real” chemicals, it cost a lot over a year. I couldn’t justify not buying it because I couldn’t teach otherwise.

              1. Mel (Cow Whisperer)*

                *Chemistry Teacher Hug*

                I feel your pain! I taught for eight years in alternative education high schools as the only science teacher. Four preps per year with 30+ kids per class. 95% ELL and higher % for free/reduced lunch. Total budget per year for all supplies = $50.00.

                I earned $28,000 a year. I paid around $200.00 a month in supplies for things like pencils, hand sanitizer, kleenex, and chemicals I could beg/borrow/manufacture from grocery stores and hardware stores.

                One year, our salutatorian drowned in a freak accident 4 days before graduation. I received thank you notes from the other teachers because I emptied my stash of “ten for $10 + the 11th free” kleenex boxes and brought them to all the classrooms so that a crushed student body could have kleenexes.

                At the time, I just did it. Looking back, that’s a moment that makes me queasy in hindsight because that’s how strapped our funding was: we only had kleenex after a tragedy because I had a stash.

          3. Bunny*

            Reporter here. Call a good reporter. Not about the supplies; unfortunately, that’s routine. But the show me your personal budget? I’d do a story on that. I’d Park my car outside his house with my high beams on and play Metallica until I got an answer.

      6. cbh*

        I’m not a teacher, but I have a few friends who are. If it’s acceptable in your situation, what my friends did was go to garage sales; library book sales; shopped on places like ebay/ facebook buy and sell sites; in the years leading up to being a teacher they hit back to school sales at office supply stores for art supplies…. While they could not get everything through this method, it certainly helped cut down on costs.

        1. MaxiesMommy*

          Yes. My friend found a huge ugly round rug on Craigslist for $20–just the size for all the kindergartners to sit in a circle.

        2. une autre Cassandra*

          It’s so depressing that teachers are expected to spend their own money on classroom necessities but it bums me out even more that they also have to do all this unpaid work tracking down garage sales etc just to make their own money go a little further. This is such a bummer of a phenomenon.

          1. cbh*

            It is sad but my friends tried to make it fun. They found lots of items that were unique and no longer produced anymore. They also got a lot of good ideas. Anything they couldn’t use they passed onto other teachers. It also allowed them to budget better as to not having to do it all at once (my friends did this throughout college). In addition they did not have to put everything out at once but still had surprises for their students during the year. Also as silly as it sounds these shopping excusions/ research were done with friends… something fun to do while hanging out. I’m also sure some personal shopping was done as well. So while I agree with you they should not of had to do it with their own money, it wasn’t all a horrible experience.

        3. Librarian of SHIELD*

          My friend usually makes a Facebook post when she notices that the back to school section at Target is reducing their prices. “Wide ruled spiral notebooks are 10 cents at Target right now. If you’re able, could you grab as many as you can for me? I’ll pay you back.”

          1. Librarian of SHIELD*

            Hit send too soon!

            That way, 8 or 9 people get her 8 or 9 notebooks each, and she’s got about enough to carry her class through a significant portion of the year.

          2. nonegiven*

            Tell Target or Walmart you are a teacher and they might discount your purchase of school supplies.

      7. OhBehave*

        If you or she is on a community FB page, consider posting as a new teacher who needs to outfit her new classroom. I’ve seen many of these requests and they are always responded to very generously.

      8. TitleOneESLTeacher*

        She won’t be given money to outfit her room, but she should see what supplies her school has first, then decide what is really necessary or what adjustments she can make to go without the rest.

      9. Mama Bear*

        I would also encourage her to look for teacher resources in her area. For example, Baltimore has a teacher supply swap organization. For classroom books, aside from thrift stores and library book sales, she might also ask the PTA if they do anything for teachers with the book fair. Ours gave teachers Scholastic dollars, and also allowed them to post a wish list. Families bought from that list to augment the teachers’ libraries. Freecycle may also be her friend.

      10. EPLawyer*

        Putting this here for ALL the teachers:

        1. Donors choose (google it) it’s basically go fund me for classrooms. It works and its legit.
        2. Contact your local Lions club (lionsclub DOT org) for help. It’s a community thing, they will work with you.

        I totally think it is HORRIBLE that teachers have to pay out of their pocket for their classrooms. What do we pay taxes for if not for classrooms?

        1. Clisby*

          DonorsChoose is definitely legit. Money donated is tax-deductible (if you itemize deductions); and sometimes organizations/companies will match donations.

          1. MatKnifeNinja*

            Be careful with DonorsChoose.

            At my old school district, anything purchased through there became property of the school district. My friends found out the hard way.

            1. Teacher's wife*

              Considering that regs state that items that are donated through them are owned by the school, your friends are the ones to blame for not knowing what they are doing. And they have to do it that way because teachers can raise money for a computer or iPads or even a tv, leave the school and boom, look at all the great stuff they got donated by people who want to help the students.

              Some school districts have strict rules regarding raising funds through organizations like, but it is a great organization. My husband has received tons of books for his classroom library; consumable materials such as papers, pencils, pens; headphones for using the computers; weekly reader subscription for a year; magnets for science; etc.

              Another suggestion for all new teachers is try to find a teacher who is retiring. They may be willing to share items they have that they won’t need anymore.

            2. Clisby*

              Whose property did they think it would be? DonorsChoose doesn’t buy things for teachers; it buys things for schools.

              1. Zelda*

                Indeed. I am an occasional donor there, and the premise is that teachers *shouldn’t* be personally responsible for outfitting the classroom. It *ought* to be the responsibility of the school and the community it serves. If the immediate community can’t or won’t provide a suitable resource budget, then Donors Choose is a way for a larger community to step in.

      11. Wilsinia*

        Take this with a grain of salt as I am not a teacher. I work at a library, and we get quite a few teachers who take out books for their classroom. Of course these teachers are coming biweekly to get more books pretty consistently. I wish teachers didnt have to do all this though.

      1. LH Holdings*

        No. They absolutely know what’s going on. However, parents bringing it to their attention would be impactful.

        1. no, the other Laura*

          That’s what I was thinking, isn’t there a PTA? This is typically something the PTA addresses in my area, they have bake sales and donation drives and go around to local businesses getting donations.

    2. HarvestKaleSlaw*

      It’s beyond gross!

      You know what I think would be fair? Calculate what percent of a teacher’s salary “several thousand dollars” is (sidenote – !!!! most Americans can’t come up with $400 in a pinch). Demand that this administrator pay the same percentage out of their nice, plump, principal salary. If that principal doesn’t have $20,000 cash on the barrel within two hours, demand to see a full accounting of their assets plus their bank statements from the last five years.

      I’m sorry. Am I being a bit crazy sounding? I’m so mad I can’t remember what is normal talking.

      1. wondHRland*

        I was going to suggest something similar, ask to see her budget and what SHE as the LEADER of the school is willing/able to contribute to the success of her students and teachers.
        No one should have to PAY to work.

      2. Pommette!*

        I appreciate the sentiment (and turnabout is fair play!), but this approach could backfire. (I mean, I realize that you’re kidding, but) to pursue that line of thinking: the OP’s principal’s could easily have internalized the idea that people who work in education should be funding education. Their request is so wildly inappropriate that I have no trouble imagining them responding to a similar request by the OP by opening their own books to show that they spend a huge proportion of their own salary on school supplies, as if that justified expecting the same thing from the teacher. “Here, let me show you how I do it! I was making less than you are when I started!”.

        I know a couple of principals, both working in under-resourced schools, and they spend a lot of their own money on school resources. They started off as teachers who spent a lot on classroom supplies, and increased their spending as their salaries allowed it. They now spend a lot more to provide the things that are needed at the school level, but are not adequately funded by the board: food and winter clothes for students, equipment for the gym and playground, books and subscriptions for the library, supplies for the teachers’ lounge… I respect them and donate school supplies myself, but am also seething that this is the system we’re stuck with, when we could easily afford fair and sufficient funding for education.

          1. TootsNYC*

            also, education is considered to be a local expense and locally controlled–and many cities and towns don’t have much of a tax base.

          2. RUKiddingMe*

            Yeah, god forbid society worked to…help each other!

            Pssst…I know you were being sarcastic. So am I.

          3. Quill*

            Not to mention all those juicy tax breaks going to businesses for deigning to ‘create jobs’ in a state or county… which are almost always property tax breaks, meaning that businesses pay zip for local education…

            We should just pool all education funds at a state level and distribute it based on headcount (with a discretionary fund because nobody should have to go to a school whose roof leaks / we’re going to have disabled and special needs students who will need more spent on them for accessibility.)

        1. PhyllisB*

          Today I went to my grandson’s middle school today and took a huge box of uniform shirts and pants. Some of them never worn. Also a box of boys’ shoes. They were so grateful.

    3. Artemesia* is an organization that seeks funding for teacher projects; sometimes those projects are just the supplies needed to run the classroom. I think the odds are better of getting funded if the focus is on something e.g. stem skills, reading, math skills or even art projects, but there are lots of people who put in for classroom seating and general supplies. I’d suggest that teachers in this situation apply for these funds. I know I donate several hundred about this time of year; recently completed one teacher’s request for staged reading material, another’s for seating for a reading corner, another’s math hands on materials and another for art supplies. This is a well managed program that puts donations where it matters.

      It is just horrible that teachers are expected to do this. I was a teacher in the 60s and we had a lot more expectation that things we needed would be provided. It is particularly rough now on teachers in poor areas where parents don’t supply the materials. This principal is a monster. I hope the OP can find sources of support in the community that don’t mean robbing her of her already low income to pay for business supplies. This is monstrous.

      1. School Psych*

        Donors choose is a great resource and I’ve seen teachers in the schools I’ve worked in get some basic supply requests funded this way as well as some bigger ticket items like projectors. In my neighborhood, there are also a lot of teachers posting on Nextdoor during the Spring and summer looking for books and sometimes furniture donations. I’ve seen people get pretty good responses on Nextdoor with donations, so that might be another avenue to try if your neighborhood has it. Teachers in the districts I’ve worked in do spend their own money on supplies, but I’ve never heard an administrator say this expected. However, classroom management and student engagement is part of what teachers are judged on when an administrator comes to observe. If students don’t have basic supplies because they forget to bring them or can’t afford them, it can affect how the teacher performs during their formal observation. It’s not fair, but is definitely at least indirectly expected in many districts that teachers will spend their own money on supplies.

      2. Librarian of SHIELD*

        If you’re thinking about using Donors Choose, make sure you know your district’s policy. Some school districts won’t allow teachers to post there without advanced approval.

      3. Librarian In the Academy*

        My brother is a high school teacher and proposed an interesting project through this program. He wanted to purchase a series of Batman graphic novels (comic books, if you will) which deal with real-life themes, and have the students read them, talk about them, study the themes, etc. These kids didn’t like reading, and he thought that graphic novels would entice them to read. And so it did! His project was funded and he told me the project was a success. I donated some funds and still have the thank-you letters that the kids wrote to me.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          My 5th kid just finished Maus and asked for the sequel. He’s also been reading The Cartoon History of The Universe off and on for several years (on about the 3rd time through, I think). I read several classics for the first time in illustrated form.

          Comics can be awesome.

    4. Staxman*

      So the principal was sure, sight unseen, that she could find a spare $3000 in the LW’s family budget. The words “smug” and “presumptuous” come to mind.

  2. Hope*

    LW, as a stop-gap, you can look into It’s a decent way to get funding for classroom supplies.

    Ridiculous that it’s like that, but yeah. There’s a reason I’m not a teacher anymore.

        1. Kesnit*

          With what money??? Teachers are paid poorly enough as it is. (Child of 2 public school teachers here.) Now you are expecting teachers to pay for supplies for their classroom from their own pockets? Art supplies. Books. Pencils. Paper. And you need enough to supply each child. Those things add up fast.

          1. CDel*

            I think RoadsLady was telling the School District to do their jobs and supply a classroom if they won’t allow crowdfunding, not saying the teachers should suck it up.

        2. RoadsLady*

          I was referring to the schools who don’t like crowdfunding but don’t want to actually provide stuff, not the teachers. Sorry if that wasn’t clear.

      1. Jax7786*

        Ours too. And yet they have cut our Materials of Instruction funding every year for the past 3 years.

      2. Samwise*

        Here is the saddest fact from that article: “Eighty-one percent of schools in the U.S. have at least one teacher who has listed a project on DonorsChoose, according to the nonprofit. “

      3. Jessica*

        I had this same issue. I posted on a local Facebook group asking if i could gift teachers some items from their Amazon wishlist for their classroom. I was told they couldn’t have Amazon wishlists or use donors choose because it made the school system look bad.

        1. Impy*

          Emotionally blackmailing low paid workers into subsidising their workplaces looks worse.

        2. Mama Bear*

          That is maddening. If they don’t want to look bad, then they need to look at what their teachers need and what they can provide. The excuse that it might not meet tech standards – often teachers are just looking for things like headphones for listening stations. I think the districts complaining need to work with the teachers vs putting the squash on them trying to be resourceful.

        3. Liane*

          Another thing that will make school districts look bad but that they can’t forbid:
          Citizens speaking out repeatedly, from social media to school board meetings, that they aren’t pleased that the Board 1) won’t pay for basic supplies; 2) insists teachers cover the costs; & 3) forbids crowdfunding/donations to help.

          1. Librarian of SHIELD*

            Don’t stop at the school board. Call and write to your state legislators. They’re the ones who determine a significant portion of most states’ educational budget, so they’re the ones who need to loosen the purse strings.

            1. MJ*

              And compare the state legislators’ annual stationery budgets with those of the annual budgets that supply children with pens, pencils, paper, notebooks.

        4. Iron Chef Boyardee*

          “I was told they couldn’t have Amazon wishlists or use donors choose because it made the school system look bad.”

          Oh, and making teachers pay for needed supplies out of their own pocket makes the school system look good?

      4. Observer*

        Honestly, I think that every single person who claims that they have a problems with donorschoose because of lack of control is lying – unless “standards” and “priorities” include “base classrooms” and “objectively inadequate supplies.” Because the alternative to this is teachers purchasing their own supplies etc. How IS that being controlled. It’s not – except in that teachers ARE being pressured to spend money.

        And they all know this. This is not a “mistake”.

        1. Artemesia*

          Donors choose is very well controlled — teachers are not handed money, they have specific supplies they request provided by the organization. Yes there is a little overhead to do this, but it is organized so that the possibility of any fraud or misuse by teachers is controlled. A district who denies teachers this resource while not funding the classrooms is run by moral monsters. I am wondering how much the principal in this LW’s story kicks in for school supplies each year from her much better salary (not that she should have to.)

          1. Observer*

            Unfortunately, I have to agree with you. (Unfortunate because our school districts should be run by people who care about kids not people who have zero moral compass.

        2. A District Data Nerd*

          We have very specific requests that we ask of teachers using DonorsChoose for tech needs:

          A) Please select a brand of devices our site techs are certified on (HP, Dell, Lenovo, Apple), so that if there’s a problem we can service the equipment and get it back in the classroom quickly.

          B) Let us vet any online software to ensure it meets California student privacy laws.

          C) Tell us about what they want to do, not for approval but since we can sometimes/usually make it happen out of the budgets it’s supposed to.

          I know the correct perception is that teachers HAVE to contribute all of this money, and I’ve been known to drop the odd couple of hundred on something myself, but I always feel so ashamed when someone feels the need to spend money in our district and I know I could have gotten it done. The one that makes me cry at night though, is hearing that one of our faculty gave up on an idea without asking.

      5. TANSTAAFL*

        My niece is a special ed teacher in the NYC public school system. She has occasionally used donorschose to raise funds for special items, such as a tablet or specialty application to use in the classroom.

      6. Adalind*

        That’s disgusting. This whole situation is terrible. One of my friends that is a teacher (and I know many) used an Amazon wishlist recently and in lieu of birthday gifts and such asked for things for her classroom. It helped but it’s terrible teachers have to resort to this. It gets me so angry…

      7. Data Nerd*

        I love and support DonorsChoose with every spare penny I have. I fully agree that it should never be necessary. I further agree that it is ridiculous and infuriating that teachers are paying out of pocket for any classroom supplies, but somehow this is the world we live in. Banning DonorsChoose? And still not paying for classroom supplies? This makes me want to puke.

        1. NW Mossy*

          They’re my #1 recipient for charitable giving, and have been since 2005. I am FUMING. FLAMES. as a citizen and parent. The disparities in funding levels between districts and the impact on inequality are already infuriating enough; trying to shut both teachers and donors down for doing their small part to close the gap has me seething.

          As the posted article suggests, a policy for responsible and compliant use of the platform is a much better option. Telling a teacher “let me, your boss, Dave Ramsey your budget so that you can self fund pencils” deserves to be cast into whatever Dark Pit of Terrible Ideas it crawled out of posthaste.

            1. anne_not_carrot*

              Nah, he asks to see people’s personal budgets in job interviews and wants to talk to their spouses about long-term financial viability.

      8. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I’m just seeing this.


        So you won’t fund f…ing schools and you want teachers to fill that gap and when they find a f…ing work around you close it down because “oh noes, it makes us look bad because oh noes, we’re NOT GIVING YOU ENOUGH MONEY TO TEACH YOUR F…ing class.” RAGE. I just cannot.

        1. Linguist*

          That’s about the size of it. It’s the philosophy of “we know it’s wrong, therefore we must pretend it isn’t true or doesn’t exist and you must help us achieve that” that is so prevalent and infuriating.

      9. RoadsLady*

        I actually love Donors Choose. It’s a good way to get things that really are above and beyond what in my mind should be the norm. A few years ago I used it to purchase robots. Another time I set up some very fancy listening centers. Last year I did a project of things that were simple enough as individuals but were part of a far more expensive project.

        I think it definitely has its purpose, but it’s depressing as all get out to see teachers on there asking for basics like pencils and paper.

        1. Zelda*

          but it’s depressing as all get out to see teachers on there asking for basics like pencils and paper.

          And those are exactly the projects that I seek out to fund, because those are the major failures of society– if we can’t or won’t put those basic tools into the hands of young people trying to learn. “What if you had to hold a bake sale to buy a bomb?”

      10. Clisby*

        From the article: “In Nashville, Frierson also raised concerns that teachers would use crowdfunded money for personal expenses, rather than their classrooms. “Employees could just be out there fundraising just on their own,” she told Nashville Public Radio. “There’s no way to know they’re not using it for private use.”

        Clearly this person knows nothing about DonorsChoose – they never send cash to teachers. DC buys whatever the teacher was raising money for (books, calculators, whatever) and ships it to the school.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      I haven’t read this whole comment section, but my question seems to fit okay here. I have a rising high school sophomore and college senior. I have cabinets filled with notebooks with 5 sheets used, boxes of markers, binders in good condition, etc.

      Are there any local orgs that would typically take this type of stuff? Scout groups? Churches? Local school districts here do have supply drives, but they want people to buy extra and donate new stuff. (I mean, I want to give kids new stuff, too, but I’d like something better to do with my existing stuff than throw it in the trash. I have more paper than we could use over the next 20 years at this point.)

      1. OhBehave*

        Teachers will take a lot of that stuff. Clean it up, test the markers, tear out used pages, etc. We have community centers in poorer areas that kids will go to after school for homework help. They would take that stuff as well.

      2. Gillian*

        Give it to a teacher. Most teachers hoard gently used items for students who can’t afford it.

      3. PreK isn’t for wimps*

        Don’t know about everywhere, but back when I was a PreK -K teacher (yes also burned out and left) I was always more than willing to take donations of gently used art supplies. Try checking with preschools first would be my suggestion.

      4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Call your local school.

        I had lots of stuff from our closet cleanout at work and went to a small town school to off load it. They were thrilled.

        They do a lot of donations at the beginning of each years. They’re usually at places like Staples or Office Depot as well. They’re usually called things like “backbacks for kids” and such.

        1. Lynn*

          You can also check with your local food bank. Some (though certainly not all) of them will have school supplies out and would be more likely to accept used items than some of the other drives. Your local women’s shelter will also be likely to have needs to supply kids who came in with nothing.

      5. Artemesia*

        If you can get names of individual teachers in local elementary schools through friends, teachers often welcome this sort of thing. I have a friend who has a teacher friend who does lots of crafts involving toilet paper rolls and paper towel rolls and has several of her friends collecting them. You may not find an institutional drive, but can probably find teachers who would love to have the supplies.

      6. Mama Bear*

        Talk to the teachers or counselors at the school. When my mom was unloading old materials, I filtered it all through one teacher and she doled it out to anyone who wanted/needed it.

      7. Marmaduke*

        Local refugee support centers may also welcome those donations. A lot of them are severely underfunded and always looking for supplies for their language classes and after school programs.

  3. Harper the Other One*

    Oh, this makes me so furious! Just that teachers have to stock their classroom is bad enough, but I know many teachers opt to because they want their classrooms to be awesome. The very suggestion to go through your personal budget so you can make up the money is so much more inappropriate that it has me seeing red.

    1. MaxiesMommy*

      Plus–didn’t the school district allocate funds for that purpose? Is it the District’s policy that the teachers self-fund, or just this principal? Surely the principal is smart enough to say “every classroom gets $200 to start, I wish it were higher” if she’s cooking the books. I’d ask around to see what other teachers have experienced.

      1. Ramanon*

        Surely a principal cooking the books would be smart enough not to steal money for district-wide initiatives and then tell the students that no, this school is the only school not participating in the initiative, but…

        Some people just get used to getting away with everything.

      2. Anonymeece*

        Honestly, I doubt it’s anything nefarious. A lot of districts pour money into sports at the high school level or other projects and don’t have much left over. Or they just don’t get funding and expect the teachers to pick up the slack.

        When I was in middle school, the school ran out of paper to make copies and didn’t have the money to buy more; teachers either brought in their own, our quizzes got canceled (which was awesome for us), or we had to look at the projector and take the quiz on our own paper and turn them in.

        Part of the problem is that schools have learned that teachers *do* pick up the slack, so they’re less willing to commit to the budget. If teachers stopped doing it, the school would probably find that money somewhere. (And to be clear: I’m not blaming the teachers here! No one goes into teaching for the money, and it’s hard to choose between standing up for yourself and standing up for all the kids who will suffer in the meantime. That’s a terrible choice to have to make.)

    2. Z*

      One of my teacher friends was “encouraged” to do something fun with her hallway bulletin board. She teaches high school English.
      She asked, Are you requiring it?
      She asked, Is it in my job description?
      She asked, Are you paying for it?
      Her bulletin board is entirely blank except for a couple relevant things she could print from the school printer. B/c she ran out of f’s to give.

    3. CocoB*

      I want to know if the principal pays for her own supplies. How many pens, pencils, post it notes and ink cartridges does she provide from her personal budget? And the audacity to suggest she look at your personal budget!

  4. MaxiesMommy*

    Oh, I’d be asking to see the school’s budget, saying I was “certain I could find the money.”

      1. MaxiesMommy*

        Learned that from an old divorce lawyer–“You think this is a good idea, it’s fair? Okay, then YOUR client can do it. Let’s write up the order.” Stammering and backpedaling.

    1. irene adler*

      Or the principal’s personal budget. I’m certain the OP would find plenty of money there.

      BTW, how much IS this principal paying for school supplies from her own pocket?

      1. AnonnyNon*

        At my kid’s former charter school, the principal was paid upwards of $250k. Teachers were making $25k-$33k with horrible benefits.

        The school did not provide supplies beyond textbooks, so parents were given a supply list. The part the school failed to communicate to parents was that the supplies we purchased were not for our own kid’s use, but for the entire school to share. For instance: that scientific TI calculator I sprung for for my 2nd grader, intending to have it last until a graphing calculator was needed? They tried to reallocate it to a random high school student and told me to buy another. Um, no. We had to permanently and prominently label EVERYTHING we sent with our kid if we ever wanted to see it again. Including lunchboxes and backpacks. We were lucky they didn’t try to redistribute clothing.

        There are reasons it is the former school.

        1. C*

          Oy, that’s awful. My kid’s schools do note that the only things that should be labelled are headphones, backpack & folder, and that other supplies (crayons, markers, pencils, etc.) will be shared (which makes sense, IMO), but a calculator? GTFO.

          1. AnonnyNon*

            Because they won’t be a second grader forever and I wasn’t planning to replace that calculator until they needed my TI-89. A calculator capable of doing order of operations isn’t going to hurt a 2nd grader and will grow with them.

          2. RadManCF*

            Also, graphing calculators have such a learning curve that years of experience with them prior to college is a good idea.

            1. AnonnyNon*

              Just to clarify, a scientific calculator (something on the order if a TI-30) is not the same as a graphing calculator (far more advanced).

        2. Artemesia*

          I give to many donor’s choose projects but I always rule out charter schools no matter how good the projects are. They are a calculated attempt by politicians to put public money into private pockets; I am doing nothing to assist them. It is classic that the teachers are underpaid and the principal paid well and the corporation that runs them even better. It is not surprising that in spite of selective enrollment they produce academic outcomes on average worse than regular public schools controlled for demographics.

          1. Marmaduke*

            You’re painting with a broad brush. The charter school I worked for was far from perfect, but enrollment was entirely done by lottery, our principals made salaries on par with veteran teachers, and the academic outcomes were way beyond what was expected for schools in our draw area.

            1. Clisby*

              Yep, in my state charter schools aren’t allowed to have selective enrollment – it’s lottery only.

          2. Quill*

            Depending on state and district, a “charter school” can mean different things.

            My mom taught at one that was technically listed as a charter school because it wasn’t large enough to have it’s own district, and that was really it. No funding difference, and the district used it as a program / tech testing ground occasionally, leading to great frustration when teachers were expected to go (unpaid) to summer inservices to learn a new math/science/english program every year or so, or they had to use a ‘trial’ of a new gradebook software for 6 months.

        3. RandomU...*

          Yeah, I’m not a fan of the privately purchased for your kid turning communal school supplies.

          This sounds particularly egregious since it didn’t really go into a communal pot… just ‘redistributed’. I feel like there’s a word that describes that :)

          1. AnonnyNon*

            “Theft” comes to mind. I’m fine with the communal pot concept if people are informed about it ahead of time.

            Extended family members had kids who went to an awesome charter school. Unfortunately, that one appears to be an anomaly and I would never recommend anyone entrust their kids’ education to such a shady system. So glad we moved on from there.

          2. Turtle Candle*

            Yeah, like, I get it when it’s something like kleenex or hand sanitizer, where it sort of makes sense to have one open at a time for all to use, but a calculator? a backpack? Yikes.

          3. NotAnotherManager!*

            I try to be pretty zen about sharing, but the year I sent my Pig Pen of a kid in with heavy-duty plastic folders and the good markers and pencils, I found that I was absolutely LIVID when they did a communal supply/redistribution and he ended up with crappy paper folders that barely made it through the first quarter and scratchy not-Ticonderoga pencils that irritated his auditory sensitivity.

            I would have happily provided some additional supplies for the communal pool, but I bought the more expensive heavy-duty folders and notebooks because I know my kid and then ended up both repurchasing them AND having to glue-stick content out of the falling-apart notebook into the new one.


      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        I am a genius with YNAB and could find that cash in the principal’s home budget no problem.

        And then I would be fired.

    2. Emily K*


      Goodness, even if it wasn’t a gross overstep AND she was right and she could find an extra $3,000 in LW’s budget, I’m sure there are a lot of higher-priority items on LW’s wish list that she’d rather put it towards. Like her retirement or children’s tuition savings or getting a new HVAC equipment or…etc.

      1. Not Sayin'*

        And then move on to recommend that they downsize their house, get rid of their extra vehicle (and downgrade the remaining one), purchase their clothing second hand, take staycations, implement meat-free Mondays, and hey, how about giving your donation budget directly to the school system?

    3. Ren*

      And I’m sure you could easily find the money to outfit all the classrooms in fine fettle, by cutting one or two unnecessary administrative positions.

    4. no, the other Laura*

      +100000. Administrators get paid big bucks in my area, especially of charter schools, while the teachers barely get a living wage. I think the ONLY reason they get even that much is because my state is very VERY fussy about funding education and requires teachers to have or be working towards advanced degrees, various certifications. School supplies that don’t come from the school itself are paid for by PTA bake sales and car washes and whatnot, occasionally by corporate sponsorship (e.g. a local bank will pay for an athletic field if they can put a sign up with their name on, sort of thing).

      OP, definitely your boss cannot be going through your personal budget. Just no. This is why there’s a PTA and kids selling brownies at my recycling center on Saturdays.

  5. Christine*

    Oh wow this is awful. I know you probably can’t/shouldn’t do this because you need your job, but I would be tempted to go to the school board with that (is that even the right place to go?) Somewhere above your Principal’s head because this is completely inappropriate.

    1. Stormfeather*

      Likewise I was thinking it would be tempting to name and shame in a public forum (both to call out the principal for her handling of this and to maybe bring to light how under-funded the school may be), but again that would be like attaching dynamite to your job prospects there (and possibly throughout the county schools or even further) and lighting the fuse.

    2. Engineer Girl*

      The real issue is that this wasn’t disclosed at job offer time. Salary is dependent on many factors and failure to disclose out of pocket costs is a problem.
      It’s treating a teacher like a contractor – having to furnish their own supplies.
      That’s the real push back

      1. Psyche*

        Also, they get taxed on that money! If you are actually planning to force the teacher to use $3000 of their salary for school supplies, pay them $3000 less so that at least they aren’t taxed on it. Also, then it is transparent how abominably you are paying the teacher.

        1. Newington*

          Yeah. Surely this would work out better for the school too, since then they’d have the whole $3000 to spend.

          If it’s a given that the money has to come out of LW’s salary (I can scarcely believe it is, but I’ll take the word of US teachers in this thread, I guess) – rather than have the indignity of detailing my personal spending to my boss so that he could ‘find’, i.e. confiscate, $3000, I’d be asking him to dock my pay instead.

      1. Properlike*

        If it’s a public school, teacher’s unions do exist, and this would be a grievance to report. Whether or not you get any traction depends on if you feel comfortable attaching your name to the complaint.

        Beyond that, it’s a district superintendent matter, and then a school board matter.

        But this is unacceptable on multiple levels before it even got to “let me look at your personal budget.”

        1. Middle School Teacher*

          It also depends on if it’s in their CBA. Our union probably wouldn’t touch this if it wasn’t.

      2. wittyrepartee*

        If they have one, this would go straight to them. If it’s not a public school though…

    3. Sharrbe*

      Yeah, no teachers generally get no support from admin, district, who are completely focused on test scores and keeping parents happy. They’d be labelled a troublemaker and there would be fallout.

      1. Memily*

        I’d say that’s really district-dependent. My dad is the chair of the local school board, and he would be absolutely HORRIFIED to hear a story like this from one of the teachers in his district. But it’s a smallish local municipal district with lots of local oversight.

        The district in the nearby large city? They wouldn’t care one bit. So it really helps to know who you’re dealing with.

        1. pcake*

          I live in Los Angeles, where teachers have been paying for classroom supplies since at least the ’70s. The schools aren’t so straightforward about it when hiring, and I haven’t heard of anyone with the freaking audacity to ask to see a teacher’s budget to see where they can cut their already-lowish salaries to buy things the school and district should be paying for.

  6. LH Holdings*

    As a current public school educator I say this with the utmost sincerity; your principal is insane. They absolutely have the budget to pay for your supplies (especially if you are Title 1) they probably just want to use it for something else. I would go back to the principal and say, “ Based on my budget, I am not able to fund these needs. Will the school be able to supply these, or should I provide a supply list to my students at meet the teacher? ( or whatever before the test starts event you may have).

    1. irene adler*

      You’d think though, that if the budget were earmarked for “something else”, they would at least tell the OP what that “something else” is. Unless that “something else” is the principal’s pocket.

      1. Turtle Candle*

        In my hometown, the way this tended to shake out was that it went to whatever the most vocal/influential parents and school board members and other prominent citizens wanted, usually something fairly flashy. Athletics was part of it. A big fancy literary magazine was another part of it. A class trip somewhere cool, for a teacher who was really good at lobbying and/or had children in their class whose parents were really good at lobbying. Because those things are big and obvious and exciting and get in the newspaper. Whereas “a bunch of pencils and notebooks and maybe some wall posters if we can stretch it” don’t. The weird truth is that you can have a school with flashy, clearly-expensive projects that still leans on teachers and parents to buy the very most basic basics.

    2. Bears Beets Battlestar*

      Yep. I’ve asked for things that are required for students’ IEPs and been told that there’s no money left in the budget. It’s literally the administration’s job to find the money, but they can’t. Until the football team needs a bus to go to playoffs, then there’s plenty of money…

      1. Quill*

        “Dyslexia is no longer a learning disability and we don’t have to pay anything for IEPs or accessibility for that or ADD / ADHD,” is one thing my district did…

        Glad I graduated when I did, it was crappy when I was a kid and has only got worse since.

  7. Kheldarson*

    Oh wow. That’s… *way* over the top, OP. The only advice I have is to maybe choose the most important items on the list that you really shouldn’t cover (like absolute essentials) and see if you can get that covered. Then work out the rest as you can.

    Educational funding in the US sucks.

  8. The Cosmic Avenger*


    OP, as someone who has taught in public schools and had family members and best friends make a career out of it, I support you! You should not be paying for classroom supplies out of your own pocket! Your principal is basically trying to pull a bait-and-switch and get you to teach for less than your agreed-upon salary. If those supplies are necessary, then the school or the parents should pay for them. If they’re not necessary, then you sure as heck should NOT be paying for them!

    1. BetsyTacy*


      Not an excuse for the principal’s expectations or offer, but as the daughter of a getting-ready for retirement elementary school teacher, I would highly encourage you to reach out to recently retired or about to retire school teachers of the same material in your network. Many of them would be happy to find a good home for their carefully curated (or hoarded) supplies.

  9. RoadsLady*

    Ugh. I teach at a very small school where we happily get overinvolved in each other’s lives, so I can almost–almost–see how the principal crossed this boundary, trying to be helpful.

    But it is still a boundary.

    And we also have decent budgeting for supplies.

    1. RoadsLady*

      It does seem like a close-knit faculty, which can be good… and I did get the feeling she honestly thought she was being helpful.

      It was bizarre

      1. OP*

        It was very bizarre.

        I’m not sure yet if it’s a close-knit community, but everyone so far seems friendly and social enough. But my impression is also that this is their norm.

        And you’re right, I do think she thought she was being helpful. But it came off as so strange!

        1. Bibliovore*

          YIKES and more Yikes.
          Yes, when I was teaching elementary, I reached into my own pocket. BUT, the essential supplies- pocket folders, paper , pencils, stick pens, yellow post-it were all available.

  10. Cheluzal*

    Teachers buy a lot of stuff but my district gives us all a little stipend and we can ask our department for funds because we all get it from fundraising. As a teacher who knows this isn’t going to change, I decided to change my approach: the only thing on my list of supplies for kids to get is paper and something to write with.

    Many kids can’t even remember those so I’m not pushing it with other things. I can educate any kid if they can write on a piece of paper and use the book we are provided. We don’t need a zillion dollars per kid, contrary to popular belief.

    1. Samwise*

      Well, ok. But some of the things that teachers at my kid’s elementary school (in a rather well off part of a rather well off district) needed to buy: in addition to paper, pencils, markers, crayons, kid scissors, tape, and other very basic school supplies — kleenex, wipes, hand sanitizer, extra clothing (t shirts, pants, socks, sweatshirts, hats, gloves) for kids who had accidents and needed clean clothes, snacks and juice pouches (not every kid comes to school with lunch and snacks — they forget their lunch, they don’t qualify for free/reduced but their household is food-insecure, they have abusive or neglectful parents), backpacks (for kids whose families cannot afford them). Etc.

  11. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

    Holy crap. I… I don’t really have anything for you beyond that. Well, that and my blinding white-hot rage, because what the HELL.

  12. IT But I Can't Fix Your Printer*

    I wonder how it would look to the community if you told this story to a bunch of local reporters…. [thinky emoji]

    (probably don’t actually do this because your job is on the line, but.)

    1. Former Reporter*

      As a former reporter covering local schools, I would have jumped at this story.

      1. MaxiesMommy*

        A charity in my city refurbs donated laptops so every kid can have one. Local TV does a news item to encourage donations, but they have a “hairdo” covering the story. Little boy gets his laptop, his family is there, and “hairdo” tells the 6-ish younger sister that she gets “a keychain!!!” Sis says “that’s a flash drive but thank you”.

          1. fposte*

            I think it originates with West Wing, but it’s basically a guy who’s all visuals (perfectly blown-dry hair) with nothing behind it.

          2. Artemesia*

            That is what some of us have called local news talking heads since the 60s at least. You know Jill Newslady and Jim Anchorton from Colbert sort of capture it.

    2. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

      I am envisioning the comment section saying, “Well why not get a summer job for ALL THAT TIME OFF so you can pay for supplies!” because you know teachers are such a drain on taxpayers …

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      As a member of the community, I’d be pretty appalled if we couldn’t buy our teachers some basic classroom setup supplies, but I am also generally appalled by the fact that teachers have to spend so much of their own money on things that should be provided by the school system.

      We do get school supply lists, and I think my upper-elementary schooler had about 20 things on it (if you count the box of 50 pencils as one thing). I’d rather pay for that then have a teacher dipping into her pocket to provide them, but we are also lucky to be in the position to do that.

  13. 2horseygirls*

    “Boss, I feel that my personal budget is my personal business, and your offer is a gross overstep into my private life.

    Is this a required activity with every teacher in this school? In the district?

    I would appreciate access to resources to get these supplies via the school district.”

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      I think I would go the route of assuming that she was making a joke that just happened to fall flat. Because, truly, a rational principal would not truly be suggesting that a subordinate bring in their personal finances to find a way to give back what has to be a month-ish of salary.

      It think that this would be one of those times where “no” was my complete answer. If OP’s contract does not require that sort of “donation” to the school, just “no”.

  14. Mama Bear*

    Three grand is a hit to almost anyone’s budget and for her to offer to go through your PERSONAL budget to find the money is a huge violation of privacy. Is she willing to let you comb the school’s “discretionary fund” to find your money? I bet not.

    I agree to try Donors Choose, though often it’s best for a very specific ask, like books for a library or bins for your classroom, vs paper, crayons, and scissors. This is also how people end up with ridiculous long lists for parents that include things like 3 packs of dry erase markers. If I were in your shoes, I’d ask other teachers how they handle their supplies. Does the PTA help? Good luck.

    1. QuestJen*

      I’ve also seen teachers post on r/assistance for help, where they’ll make up an Amazon wish list (or Walmart) and people chip in for items on there.

  15. Risha*

    Three THOUSAND dollars??? I knew (and highly disapproved) of teachers buying their own classroom supplies, but I was picturing, like, two or three hundred.

    1. Risha*

      OK, first hit on google says that nationally in 2014, teachers averaged $479 of their own money. Still way too high, but nowhere close to the number the OP’s school is expecting.

      Frankly, if every teacher is pitching in that much, I’m wondering if the principal is trying to cover up some sort of money malfeasance.

      1. Elbe*

        I was thinking this, too. Even for a public school, that value seems high. And the fact that she didn’t want to pay for ANY of the supplies is also a red flag. Even if the budget is low, the LW should get something for classroom supplies.

        The LW should ask around and see if a) all teachers are being treated this way or just the new ones and b) when this started. There may be some shady stuff going on here.

        1. boo bot*

          Yeah, I wasn’t clear on whether the principal was saying that teachers bought their own supplies (which, while awful, is common) or that the teachers contributed to the “discretionary fund” that went to supplies; it kind of sounded like the latter, and if it is, I think there’s some shenanigans going on.

    2. Eleanor Konik*

      I am a teacher and while my school does supply basic supplies, any “organization tools” I want (like bins for crayons or portable file holders) I have to pay for out of pocket. But teachers where I’m from are given a tax deduction for about 4 to $500 a year, which I assume is based on a norm that somebody figured out from a survey once. I don’t think your instincts are wrong, I think this principal is awful.

      I’ve worked in some rough, poor schools in the Baltimore area and I can confirm that this is ridiculous and out of line.

    3. Hope*

      It depends a lot on what you need as far as supplies go. If you need a new projector and the school won’t fund it, that’s going to be $$$$.

      If you’re an art teacher, you’re EXTRA screwed as far as funding supplies goes. Art supplies are hella expensive, and they get used up, unlike scissors.

      1. Quill*

        Art teacher at my mom’s old school gave up on spending on supplies other than paint and glue and started having kids make recycling sculptures.

        Kindergarten made a ten foot tall giraffe out of toilet paper tubes and old boxes, paper mache’d it over, and painted it pink with yellow spots. The rest of the school played hot potato trying to drop it off in someone else’s space for a few years. :)

      1. Rainy*

        Yeah. My sister teaches public high school and anything outside of the janky-ass desks/chairs supplied has to be purchased by the teacher, or otherwise arranged for. (Sometimes local businesses will donate money or items to help out.) She’s setting up a mixed-seating classroom for her students this next year and she worked a summer job to get the funds for furniture and decor.

        1. Properlike*

          At the public school where I taught, we were FORBIDDEN from bringing in any personal furniture, because of liability concerns. No stools or lecterns for the front of the room.

          Meanwhile, if we DID bring in extra supplies, and paid for them out of our own money, they became the property of the school district.

          1. The Bookworm*

            Wait…how do things you pay for out of your own pocket become property of the school district? “Compulsory transfer of ownership without compensation” sounds like a definition of THEFT to me.

          2. Rainy*

            At my sister’s inner-city HS, if the teachers didn’t bring in furniture, 20-40% of the students in every single class would be sitting on the floor.

              1. Rainy*

                Yeah. It’s also so upsetting that she and most of the other teachers she works with work their little tuchuses off to provide a safe, comfortable environment for their students to learn in, and to teach students who aren’t always as excited about learning as one could wish, and all they get from administrators is grief and excuses.

                Although the parents of her students love her, and she’s starting to be invited to her students’ quinceañeras and such, which really thrills her because building those relationships in a district like hers is really key to her students’ success.

            1. Ms Cappuccino*

              Then the teachers shouldn’t buy any furniture and let the students sitting on the floor….The school then will have no other choice than buying the furniture.

              1. Eliza*

                If only. There’s a real chance the school will just let the students keep sitting on the floor indefinitely.

              2. Kt*

                That’s a no.

                Someone who sat in the windowsill along with three other kids for all of Junior year, and sat on the floor in the cafeteria at lunch for four years.

              3. Oxford Comma*

                They don’t care. They won’t care. There are plenty of schools where this happens already.

                I grew up in a fairly affluent school district and we still had too many kids per class. Teachers still paid far too much to help us out. The budget routinely was voted down, etc. Why? Because too many people in the district didn’t believe in paying school taxes (my kid’s done with school; why don’t you work harder so you can afford to send your kid to private school?; not my problem, etc.). They wanted to cut music and art and anything but sports.

                It is outrageous, but if it was like that back in my day, it’s only gotten more so now.

      2. OhGee*

        I have a friend who works in an overcrowded school in a large US city who has picked up chairs off the street in order to have enough seats for her students. And no, they’re not union (yet).

    4. wittyrepartee*

      Yeah, and ideally, even in this very imperfect system, what the teachers are buying are things like “the cool sparkly borders”, “the good chalk that I like best”, “supplementary markers”. I say this as the daughter of a teacher. My mom spent money on her classroom, but not that much money.

    5. Booksalot*

      $250 per person is the federal limit for a tax deduction on educator expenses. I don’t know a single teacher who hasn’t blown past that amount before September is over. Hell, my husband spent more than that on one item when he needed to replace a projector bulb in his classroom.

    6. Kelsey*

      I think this is SO dependent on what you teach and where. I’ve taught high school English in 3 states. In SC, I was provided dept supplies and a personal budget of $0. In Ohio, I had a dept budget of $0 and a personal budget of $250 that dropped to $200/year during the recession. In Oregon, I work in a wealthy district and get $700 a year for supplies annually. I almost fell over when I learned this! It’s like winning the lottery, it’s SO much money to me. But middle school art? One pair of scissors ($1), one box of colored pencils ($1), a paintbrush ($1), paint, paper for 180 kids? My old $250 Ohio budget would be blown in month one.

      Regardless, this is horrible. My old district cut art completely before cutting teacher supply budgets. If you can’t afford supplies, then you can’t afford to offer the curriculum, and the community should know.

  16. Roja*

    Uh… YIKES. That’s wrong on so many levels. I knew teachers usually buy supplies for their classrooms (I have a lot of teacher friends) but I was always under the impression it was a couple HUNDRED dollars, not a couple thousand. Are teachers really spending $2,000-3,000 per year on classroom supplies?? And if so, what are those supplies??

    1. Mr. X*

      My wife is a science teacher and has to buy all materials for her labs out of her own pocket. In addition to standard classroom supplies, the total is about a thousand dollars over the course of the school year. Her class size is usually 32-33, her contract is for 25 and her room is set up for 27.

      1. Librarianne*

        Yup. My husband is a biology teacher. His largest class was 38 students. The school charged each student a lab fee, but many were too poor to pay. Instead of the money being spread around the department, each teacher only got to keep the money their students provided–so the veteran teacher with 6 honors classes (where students’ families tend to be wealthier) got way more money than the new teachers with no honors classes. This meant that in honors classes the students did dissections in groups of 2, while my husband’s students would’ve had to work in groups of 5-6. He was able to fix this by 1) purchasing specimens with his own money, and 2) only buying the least expensive specimens that would illustrate whatever he wanted them to see. He only brought in as many specimens as each class needed for the day, thereby ensuring the school didn’t try to claim all the ones he’d purchased as school property. (And that’s how we ended up with a closet full of fetal pigs!)

    2. H.C.*

      It varies a lot depending on grades & type of education. As other commenters noted, certain fields (like art or laboratory sciences) have a lot of non-reusable goods that teachers have to pay for if the school can’t or won’t supply.

    3. Edianter*

      I was a middle school Spanish/ESL teacher (left teaching for many reasons, including this one!), and the only things that were provided by the school were the desks/chairs, textbooks, and plain b/w photocopies. Anything extra came out of my own pocket.

      That list includes: wall posters/charts (with vocabulary, verbs, colors, etc.), dry-erase markers for the whiteboard, any language games or tools (like a big laminated clock for practicing telling time, for example), my “turn-in” baskets, hanging files, and binders for keeping lesson plans & student work organized, colored pens for grading, hand sanitizer & kleenex. My biggest “splurge” was getting little grammar booklets for the kids to fill in as they progressed through my class (so they’d have one central study resource that I knew had all of their notes in it)–I had them printed, laminated, & bound at Kinko’s. All in all I probably spent $1500-2000 of my own money each year.

      1. Roja*

        That’s truly insane. And what a black mark on our country that teachers are not only paid a way too low wage but then also pay so much extra money to teach.

        It’s hard for me to even fathom needing to spend that much on my classrooms (I teach dance). Shoot, I get snippy when I have to buy new music to teach, and that’s only $10 per CD…

    4. Mel (Cow Whisperer)*

      Former HS science teacher at two alternative education high schools. $50.00 budget for four subjects (three of which were lab-based).

      I assumed I would need roughly $100 per month out of my grocery bill to pay for classroom supplies like pencils, folders, highlighters, crayons (thank God that HS kids find those fun instead of insulting), kleenex, menstrual supplies, basic cleaning chemicals and one good quality manual pencil sharpener yearly (which was around 75% of the total cost). The remaining 25% went to whatever chemicals, lab equipment and simulations I could make out of craft materials like pony beads, pipe cleaners, straws and construction paper.

      I mentioned this up-thread, but I remember being insanely grateful that I had bought $33 dollars worth of “Buy 10 for $10.00 and get the 11th free!” cube kleenex boxes the morning after our salutatorian drowned in a swimming accident 4 days before graduation. Because I had spent that extra $22 instead of my usual $11.00, I had enough extra boxes left that I could give each classroom + the office and counselor two boxes of kleenex each.

      At the time, I didn’t think about what it meant that the only reason we had kleenex the day after a tragedy was that I decided to stock up ahead when I could….but that’s a whole lot grimmer looking back.

  17. CmdrShepard4ever*

    Based on the comment from your boss about it looking better to the community for you to buy supplies, I think the answer to this is no. But could you send home a supply list with each student that you want the parents to buy and send in with each child. I feel like I remember this happening when I was in grade/elementary school having a supply request list sent home with “1 pack of facial tissue, 1 bottle hand sanitizer, 1 pack of construction paper, etc…” If enough parents are able to purchase them it can stock the class room for the year.

    PS. I know this might not work in all classrooms/districts especially if many of the kids are low income, but OP can decide for themselves if they can do it. If the boss allows it that is.

    1. Risha*

      Out of curiosity, does anyone know when it became common for students to get supply lists beyond “1 pack of pencils and a glue stick for personal use,” and report covers once you got old enough to write one? I attended two different elementary schools, both in very well-off school districts even though we personally were poor, and none of them even thought of asking us to provide tissues or dry erase markers or paper.

      (If you were feeling rich, you could also spring for actual textbook covers instead of making your own using the traditional brown paper bag, I suppose.)

        1. Lynn*

          I was in elementary school in the 70s and it happened then too. I remember seeing it as I got towards 5th grade or so-though it is likely that it happened before then and I just wasn’t aware.

          I attended elementary school in a couple of different mostly rural areas-close enough to larger towns not to quite have the “tiny town” feel, but far enough out that we definitely didn’t qualify as suburban either.

        2. Devil Fish*

          I started elementary in the late 80s and the supply lists always had 2 boxes of tissues per student (or more if parents wanted to buy extra). In kindergarten we were also asked to bring in 2 boxes of graham crackers each. My mom says she remembers tissues being on the supply lists back when she was going to elementary school in the 60s. I think this is more location-dependent than time-dependent.

      1. Eleanor Konik*

        That’s because the *district* had plenty of money. When the district has plenty of money, teachers don’t *have* to ask for stuff. When the district is poor, teachers ask for stuff in hopes that enough to let them actually teach gets donated. Not necessarily by the parents, but sometimes it’s the only way teachers are allowed to make parents aware of what’s needful, and the parents often have more leeway for contacting charity organizations than teachers do.

      2. TotesMaGoats*

        I just got my supply list for my son’s kindergarten class. Holy cow. I’m lucky in that I’ll go to BJ’s and buy stuff in bulk or Office Depot and not blink an eye at the cost but geez.

      3. Librarianne*

        This was common when I was in school during the early 90s. Urban district, lower middle class/working class.

      4. Paralegal Part Deux*

        I got them back in 1984 when i started first grade, and I lived in a district that was/is considered rich (even though we were poor).

      5. Choux*

        I was in elementary school in the 80s and my district had us bring in Kleenex, our own paper, pencils, crayons, folders, etc., etc.

      6. Cog in the Machine*

        The public schools I went to always had a longish list of things to bring in. That was the 80s/90s.

        1. Cog in the Machine*

          Forgot to mention, it was a large district with groupings consisting of one high school, two to four middle schools, and up to fifteen elementary schools. The district money was all the same, but the individual groupings were pretty varied depending on what part of town the high school was located. The district grouping I was in was pretty firmly upper middle class.

      7. Risha*

        In other words, consensus is my parents just got super lucky with school districts. Ugh, this is all so wrong. I’m not a homeowner anymore (and don’t have any children yet), but when I was I always voted to okay the school budgets and increases, because we live in a society, dammit!

      8. Turtle Candle*

        Middle class, 80s/90s, and yeah, had a supply list up until high school. In high school it was basically just ‘make sure you have something to write with/write on,’ and if you wanted to purchase binders, folders, etc., that was kind of up to you. IIRC art class in high school had a materials fee.

        I did not know this as a child, but as an adult I found out that pretty much every one of my teachers had spent significant money on the kids who arrived without anything, whether because they were poor or because their parents were neglectful–my teachers were apparently extremely discreet in sneaking the notebooks, pencils, etc. to those kids so that nobody else would know. I only found out in adulthood because my mom volunteered in pretty much all of my classrooms up until middle school, and she was in on it (and bought things too). One year an extremely famous local athelete who wanted to remain anonymous took the principal to Macy’s and had her buy scores and scores of kids’ coats, boots, sweatshirts, etc., so that teachers could hand them out in winter to kids who either couldn’t afford them or had simply forgotten them. My mom still talks about that.

      9. Dancing Otter*

        Child of the 60s here. I vividly remember shopping for back-to-school. Pencils weren’t exciting, but crayons! Graduating from fat kindergarten crayons to regular size, then from an 8-pack to 16 colors, was exciting! I don’t recall what grade we switched to colored pencils…
        Remember moving from double-ruled “learning to write” paper to wide-ruled, then college-ruled, paper? It made us feel so grown-up.
        Scissors, ruler, folders… I know we had to buy a protractor and compass for sixth grade, because that was the year I put the point of the compass through the palm of my hand accidentally. (Natural born klutz) Slide-rule and graph paper for math & science classes, starting in junior high, though the slide-rule may have been my father’s own idea, as easier than log tables: this was before personal calculators.
        So school supply lists go back a l.o.n.g time. Everything was personal-use, though. Sharing a pencil or a sheet of paper with the person next to you was being a good neighbor, but nobody “reallocated” our supplies.

        1. KayDay*

          I was in elementary school in the 90s and had such a similar experience (except for the slide rule). I wrote small, so I started buying college rule paper when the supply lists said wide-rule because that’s the type of rebel I am. I loved buying school supplies :)

          The only community supply we had to buy was tissues. In hindsight, I can’t for the life of me figure out why our district could equip the school with enough toilet paper, paper towels, and band-aids, not to mention good quality desks and chairs, daily janitorial services, building maintenance, and heat during the winter, but couldn’t find the money for tissues?!

    2. not really a lurker anymore*

      My kids’ teachers are not allowed to send out personalized supply lists. We’re supposed to use the supply lists that the District sends out. What this results in is a bunch of stuff our school doesn’t need/use/want. We’ve had pallets of Clorex wipes dry out, for example.

      So around this time of year, the parents in the know use the closed FB group to ask what the teachers actually WANT the kids to bring in. Except maybe 1/3 of the school is in the closed FB group so they still end up with the stuff they don’t want from the other 2/3s.

      I buy the stuff on the list like paper/folders/markers/erasers/etc. and Kleenex. I skip the wipes. And I give the teacher a gift card to Target for $25 “for other supplies” and call it good. The teachers seem to appreciate this method.

      1. Middle School Teacher*

        We are not allowed to send home personal lists either. Our district makes one, the basic package per student is less than $50, and there is a list of extras (which a lot of kids don’t need to buy over and over, like a dictionary or calculator). It would look WAY worse for the community to send home extensive lists to kids.

    3. Massive Dynamic*

      YES, was coming here to make sure someone mentioned this: hit the parents up! At my kid’s school, all the teachers in the same grade coordinate and share classroom supplies and maintain (and update as needed) one list that goes home to the parents. Things like tissues, baby wipes, markers, glue sticks (side note on the glue: I think the kids must still be eating them because that was a frequent re-request last year).

      Yes, it’s not supposed to be on the parents either but at least that’s something we can take up with the school district ourselves.

    4. Truthieness hurts*

      I spent at least $50 before school startednlast year on sale buying classroom supplies that were not individual to my child. I’m not talking about clothing, I’m not talking about book bags, or even the folders that they send home with them, or lunch boxes. I’m talking about hand sanitizer, markers, crayons, pencils, paper, multiple kinds of paper,tissues, wipes and glue sticks, glue and everything else that you can think of. And I don’t begrudge it because I don’t think teachers should have to pay for it themselves but it is really freaking irritating. I don’t want teachers paying thousands of dollars if their own money but or

      parents have to spend 50 to $100 that doesn’t include any other activities or extras) a year just on school supplies not to mention communal snacks which I hate. My kid doesn’t eat half the things that are provided as communal snacks. Communal snacks are a bad idea. There’s so much just to hate about the way teachers are treated and the way School District treat parents. Are school systems suck in this country. They suck really bad. And no, teachers should never have to carry these expenses themselves.

  18. Antilles*

    I asked if I did have a budget and was told it was “more of a discretionary fund and it looked better to the community if the teachers pitched in more.” Further talk revealed this pitching in was to the tune of several thousand dollars per teacher.
    I’m not in academia, but I refuse to believe that if you actually asked them straight up “members of the community” would really look you in the eye and say they expect every teacher to put up several thousand bucks.
    Like, even if there *are* parents in the community who expect the teachers to lay out some of their own funds, I feel 100% confident that those parents are probably imagining it more along the lines of “a few extra supplies” or “decorating your classroom” or “end of semester pizza party” – a few bucks here or there to fill in gaps; not several thousand dollars.

    1. Future Homesteader*

      Sadly, in some places, public opinion of teachers is that they’re glorified, overpaid babysitters and even if those people don’t think $3,000 is right for teachers to spend, they still think that teachers need to be “contributing” more since they get summers off, etc. The attitude toward teachers in the US is (not universally, but in a lot of places) abysmal.

    2. Marzipan*

      In the community I live in, it would be considered absolutely disgusting for teachers to be expected to ‘pitch in’ in this way.

    3. Stormfeather*

      Yeah, this is another thing I was thinking. I would be bet that if this was put in front of “the community,” the majority of the people would be HORRIFIED that the principal would be expecting each teacher to pitch in even five hundred dollars of their own money, much less being expected to have the principal SNOOP INTO THEIR BUDGETS to find that money.

      WTF even?

    4. AES*

      You….would be surprised about this. Especially w/r/t public schools with majority-minority enrollment in majority-white cities–ask the community as a whole (meaning, the broader school district beyond the immediate community these schools serve) to fund these schools and you are straight up out of luck. It’s less “teachers should pay for this themselves” and more “not my kids, not my problem.”

      1. Hope*


        I got into a MASSIVE argument with my own parents for them not supporting a *very tiny* property tax increase, designed specifically to fund our local schools. Their reasoning? “Well, we don’t have kids in the school system anymore.” And this was when I was a teacher!

        If there’s an excuse to find to explain not paying for something, many, many people will find it. Not everyone realizes that taxes are the price you pay for civilization.

        1. frostipaws*

          Anyone who received a public school as a child did so because members of the community paid their taxes. Many of those people were not parents and never became parents either, but they still funded someone else’s education. Be grateful that you got a free education and return the favor to the next generation, who will be paying for your Social Security.

          1. Eleanor Konik*

            Also, better educated /socialized community members IS a benefit to ALL community members, even ones who don’t have kids!

            Don’t refuse to support funding for libraries and schools and then whine when kids are roaming your neighborhood because there’s nowhere for them to go!


          2. emmelemm*

            This is always my feeling. I went to public school, so I should pay property taxes to, in essence, pay that back, even though I don’t/won’t have children.

            Besides, we live in a SOCIETY and society overall is better if children are educated, full stop. Just because I don’t receive immediate and direct benefit of something doesn’t mean it’s not important.

          3. Not a Blossom*

            Hell, I’m never having kids and I never went to public school, and I am still happy to fund it because an educated populace benefits us all!

          4. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

            Try explaining that to the libertarian extremists who believe that nobody should pay any taxes ever, or have any regard for their community beyond their personal friends and family.

        2. OlympiasEpiriot*

          And I suppose they make a point of shopping only in stores with retail assistants who are of their children’s generation or older? I mean, obviously, they don’t think education is useful for the community.

        3. Gatomon*

          This attitude blows my mind, but I’ve heard it expressed by all sorts of people, including folks who have way more than the typical 2 – 3 children (as if they aren’t getting their monies worth?!) Why on earth would I want to create a generation of poorly educated people who I will have to work and live around in the coming decades?

          I would love to see what these people think of only paying taxes for public education while they have school-aged kids. Let’s see them get a $12,000 yearly tax assessment* times each school-aged kid and find out how they feel.

          *Number pulled from Google

        4. My Brain Is Exploding*

          Ooh the tax issue! Part of the problem with getting those passed in our area is that people don’t feel that the money is going/will go where they think it should. Like… The board wants better football fields or computers for every child in every grade or they just UPDATED THE ADMIN BUILDING.

          1. Eleanor Konik*

            Hahaha yeah the computers for every kid in every grade thing caused a huge scandal in Baltimore County and was an enormous waste of money. They had to strip the Special Ed departments to the bone to afford it which was … not great.

            1. Librarianne*

              Nearly all the teachers I know think the “computers for every kid” idea is ridiculous. In many of the places I’ve lived, a significant percentage of families can’t afford internet services in their homes, so laptops are essentially useless when the kids aren’t at school or the public library. Plus they’re SO easy to steal and/or break, and the families can’t afford to replace them.

              1. Eleanor Konik*

                Yep! Honestly, for me a classroom cart would be the height of luxury and I could more than get by with one for every grade/subject.

              2. Rainy*

                There’s a video on youtube of two high school kids using school-owned laptops as pingpong paddles, and one of them ends up slinging the laptop against the wall. I was so angry just seeing it I could only gasp.

              3. Devil Fish*

                They aren’t even laptops, they’re Chromebooks! Those things literally don’t work without an internet connection. There’s no memory on them to store anything—and there’s no way to use Google Docs or any of the other native apps offline—because they’re built to be cloud-based and wifi-dependent.

                When I was in middle school in the 90s I’d borrow a laptop from the school to bring home over the weekend to write papers (we didn’t have internet back then, so I used analog books even though I was typing my paper). You can work with a laptop offline, but Chromebooks are useless.

                1. Clisby*

                  You can work offline with a Chromebook. (I don’t think you could when they first came out, but you can now. )

              4. MatKnifeNinja*

                My niece’s district gave every kid an iPad from grades K to 8. The area is not impoverished.

                Teachers started assigning homework that needed the internet. Fast forward two months into this mess, the local businesses with wifi started screaming that families were showing up using the wifi for homework. At 7pm you could not get a seat at the local McD, Starbucks or the public library was filled with kids trying to get homework done.

                The needing the internet for homework was phased out that November.

            2. Quill*

              I am wincing and laughing because I remember the “tech budget” in my home district that pushed Ipads for everything… and immediately crashed and burned because no programs we’d purchased were compatible and there weren’t enough compatible chargers to go around.

              If they’d actually pay their computers staff and have more than one per every three schools, they might have known not to buy tech that wasn’t super durable and compatible with everything else.

        5. Samwise*

          This sort of argument drives me bats. Ok, then, please do not tax me to build roads in the part of the county I will never drive in, for fire departments in the part of the city my house is not in, for parks that I will not visit, sidewalks I will not walk on, trash pick up in a neighborhood I don’t live in, sewers on the other side of town.

          Not my kids — give some thought to what happens to kids who can’t get a decent education, if you aren’t persuaded by the moral arguments. They grow up. Are they going to be able to get well-paying jobs and pay taxes to fund roads/sewers/fire departments/trash pick etc that everyone needs? Or not?

          1. Rainy*

            I had to leave a family event with my in-laws once and walk around for a minute to calm down when my FIL said that he didn’t feel like he should have to pay taxes for public education since his kids are grown and he tithes (Catholics) to support the parish school.

            It was everything I could do not to scream some home truths at him, since his kids went to public school and then graduated from public universities in their home state, his 87 million doctor appointments every week are with people who got public educations and at least half went to public universities, and his wife is a freaking educator oh god I might have a stroke right now just thinking about it.

            1. Devil Fish*

              It’ll be okay. I don’t have kids or own a house and I vote for every property tax increase to fund public schools just to balance out the votes of people like your FIL. It feels like doing God’s work.

        6. Amy Farrah Fowler*

          That is so absurd… It is to EVERYONE’S benefit to have children educated whether they are your children or not. Having a well-rounded, educated society is good for everyone in the society.

          Now the districts here do “Bond elections” when they want to raise funds for things which usually result in property tax increases (to pay the bond back). They did one a few years ago because they wanted to spend MILLIONS of dollars to build a new football stadium… I voted no on that one. The next year, they had a more reasonable amount and wanted to build 3 new elementary schools, a couple middle schools, and a high school because we’re overcrowded, and tacked on the football stadium, but at a more reasonable price tag. That bond passed (and I supported it).

        7. Artemesia*

          I lived in the south where many wealthier white parents kept their kids out of public schools; our kids went to public schools and got excellent education. Whenever people whined that it wasn’t fair that they paid school taxes when their kids were in private school, I would blandly say ‘Parents don’t pay school taxes.’ Then pause while they blubbered and fussed and talked about the school taxes they paid. I would then simply say ‘Parents don’t pay school taxes, citizens pay school taxes so we have a next generation of educated competent citizens.’ Some of them got it.

      2. wittyrepartee*

        I don’t have kids, I live in a high tax area, and I’m still like “PLEASE TAX ME. I WILL HELP PAY FOR THE SCHOOLS.”

          1. Risha*

            Coincidentally got my yearly local tax bill last night, and it included an apologetic letter from the mayor about the (minor, actually less than the amount approved by the voters) increase to pay for the two new schools nearing end of construction, and minor capital improvements to the existing schools. I paid on the spot.

    5. Lynn*

      Oh-yes they will. I have seen, and heard, more than one person tell my husband that directly. Now, I will be fair, he is in a high school classroom (less expensive than elementary) and spends much closer to $200-$300 on his classroom each year than the thousands put forth by the OP. But more than a few people seem to think that spending his own money to make sure the kids have what is needed is “just part of the job.” And there is a reason that teachers got a tax credit for buying supplies instead of the money to ensure that they didn’t have to do so.

      There is a vocal minority (at least I like to think it is a minority) who thinks that teaching is a basic babysitting job that anyone could do. It is where the old (and infuriating) saying that “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach” comes from. A saying that infuriates me to no end, but you will hear it a lot.

      1. Rainy*

        The only true part of that old saying is the next bit: “those who can’t teach become principals”, in my own experience.

    6. Koala dreams*

      Yes, of all the things taxes go to, I would expect basic school supplies for kids to have quite a broad support in the community.

    7. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

      I’m pretty confident that my home city would find this perfectly acceptable. A good chunk think that public school should be abolished entirely.

      So much of this is a political problem. I won’t get into it but people really need to be aware of the true agendas and intentions of the people they vote for, and get in touch with those people when they are elected, especially at the local level. But more broadly this is why I’m in despair all the time.

  19. Archaeopteryx*

    Wow, that’s disgusting. You should offer to look over the district budget and see if you can help *them* find the money!

    1. Radio Girl*

      Most public schools are very open about the budget setting process. I’d suggest attending school board meetings during budget time.

  20. Future Homesteader*

    I don’t know if there’s a way to do this without compromising OP’s anonymity, but I would HAPPILY donate to her classroom.

    A daughter, granddaughter, niece, sister, and friend of many kick-ass teachers

    PS. Oh my GOD I am SEETHING with rage.

    1. Database Developer Dude*

      Perhaps Alison could set up a gofundme for this teacher, and maintain the anonymity.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It’s such a kind suggestion. In general I don’t do that because there are so many letters here where that could be helpful and I think it’s most helpful for the site to stick to advice. (I also don’t want to be in the position of having to pick and choose where we do or don’t do it, or potentially opening the site up to people who might hope to use it for that but fraudulently.)

      2. OP*

        That’s sweet, but I am doing a little bit of digging into the matter. An acquaintance who works at the district office say that each school absolutely has a budget for supplies–the kicker being the schools get to choose how to distribute it. But it really ought to not be stockpiled for emergencies.

        I’m pretty sure I can make it work other ways, but I’d really like to get the money that’s due to my classroom.

        1. Cruciatus*

          Please let us know what happens! I hope you’re able to get them to realize how ridiculous they’re being and get money for your classroom!

        2. wittyrepartee*

          I think it might not be a terrible idea to drop a tip to a local reporter, as suggested above.

          1. Annie*

            Right? If this would look so good to the community, then what’s the issue with bringing it right to their attention?

        3. Samwise*

          Ahhhh!!!! Go back to the principal and *very sweetly* say, “I’m new, so I was trying to figure this out, and a friend at the district office said that each school gets a budget for supplies [if you know the amount, say it]! I didn’t know that! So, how can I request some of the supply budget for our school, do we have a paper form or is it online? What’s the deadline for requests?” See what the principal says. I’m guessing it’s allocated in SOME way. Maybe even a worthwhile way. But the principal does need to be transparent about it.

          1. Mama Bear*

            I would go back to the principal about knowing there is a budget from the district and asking for your classroom’s portion thereof. Does the school not even provide any copy paper? I’m still trying to get past the $3K amount. That’s insane.

          2. Risha*

            Hmm, I don’t know that I’d recommend doing that. After all, the principal never said that the money didn’t exist, only that they thought it “looked better” not to use it, and being a hugely unreasonable person they could easily take offense at the OP even appearing to do an end-run around them.

        4. Observer*

          You may need to kick this upstairs, then.

          Also, maybe someone could let this “slip” to “the community” – not just the expectation, but HOW MUCH.

        5. Future Homesteader*

          That’s absurd – I hope you’re able to get the money! Good luck with the school year, and keep us updated if you’re so inclined!

        6. TravelJunkie*

          Hmm. I don’t know anything about how school districts operate, but I wonder if your principal gets some sort of bonus/incentive from the district if she keeps things under budget.

          1. Eleanor Konik*

            I doubt it. The money probably gets spent on other things, to be honest.

            My principal is blowing a bunch of money on new teacher chairs at $500 a pop, but I’m not allowed to use department money for a $30 file organizer. /shrug

          2. Quandong*

            In my experience (but I’m not in the US) it actually backfires if schools spend less than their allocated annual budget.

            This is why there’s a flurry of activity every year to ensure the budget is spent, if it’s been kept sequestered for emergencies.

            If the budget is underspent, in future years it’s revised down to match the lower figure because the higher $ ‘wansn’t necessary.’

            1. wittyrepartee*

              Yeah, this happens in academic science too. I once had to help spend 30K at the end of the year on lab equipment. I think we got 2 -80 freezers, 3 PCR machines, and a bunch of consumables like a year’s supply of FBS. It went to good, useful things- but it’s a stupid system.

    2. MaxiesMommy*

      My goddaughter is a science teacher. You can imagine how expensive her supplies are. I’ve been to rock and mineral shows and begged for samples, because she can’t afford a basic geology sample tray. A nice lady whose daughter taught gave me several ropes of beads as samples so every kid in class could have one—she said they remembered more that way. She’ll go back to her university looking for things they’re going to throw out–sometimes her old profs make her a “charity box”, but it’s like an Andy Griffith episode where the town miser gives away kids’ toys–“A doll? How did that get in there?” And she always makes stink bombs the first day of school!!

      1. President Porpoise*

        So, in Tucson twice a year there are extensive gem and mineral shows, where you can get really inexpensive mineral/gem samples at wholesale price even as a member of the public, if you know where to go. (You can also buy museum grade huge dinosaur fossils, if you’re willing to cough up tens of thousands of dollars.) It’s pretty cool. Maybe you could enlist someone in the area to shop for your daughter? I would do it, but I’m all anonymous here…

        1. MaxiesMommy*

          I’m in San Diego, we have something similar. But I have an aunt in Tucson, hmmmm. . . .

      2. Lynca*

        If she has any contacts that are practicing geologists, I would hit them up for samples. I have more than once provided samples to classrooms because I had an earth science teacher ask me to help out. If she doesn’t know any I would look into your local geological society.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      There is a site where you can set up for donations for class rooms!

      I have no kids but I look over local ones sometimes and donate when I have the spare dollars.

      It’s Donors Choose dot Org.

      1. Crcala*

        Donor’s Choose is awesome! A lot of the projects are for school supplies–like help me stock my classroom library or help me give students graphing calculators, for example. You can sort by different types of schools, SES of the school, and other filters. They sometimes have matching donations set up too from foundations.

        I swear I am not affiliated with DC–just a fan! OP, this may be a good avenue to look into if you find you can’t get the school district to fund what your classroom needs. Although I 100% agree that your boss is super ridiculous and out of line!

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Preach! I’m glad that it’s helped so many classrooms. Above it says that some districts are banning it and I am ENRAGED about it. I’ve donated for local science classes for science kits for their students.

          I live near the underfunded, overcrowded, low-income district school because well, don’t we all usually? And like heck do I want those kids to go without because their parents are working their tails off to just put a roof over their heads [and some may not be but I Kids don’t have a choice and deserve better. The better educated. The better well cared for by the community kids are, the better our future is. These kids are going to grow into our next generation of doctors, lawyers, accountants and such. I’d like them to be as well prepared as possible, I’d like to get them the science they need to get them on the path to saving lives or whatever else is in their futures if they’re given the right opportunities and advancements.]

    4. Food for Thought*

      Maybe instead of donating to this one particular teacher, we all make an effort to find charities to help teachers provide supplies to kids, Amazon wishlists. I donate to a separate charity on occasion (I am not sure if I can post the name of it so I will put it in an additional comment just in case) that teachers can post fundraisers and many of them are local teachers that I donate to.

      While it breaks my heart that teachers essentially have to beg donors for what should be standard items, every little bit helps.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Also if your company does sponsorships or donations, you can always suggest donating to your local school district. We allocate certain funds for charity donations and have sponsored places before, so keeping that in mind when someone asks for suggestions. People don’t often think of them, since they’re thinking of other pet projects they may have, which is great and fine of course but just as a suggestion tot hose who are stumped as to where to send those donations.

  21. Seeking Second Childhood*

    I suddenly understand why I see so many people requesting school & office supplies on Freecycle and BuyNothing.
    This is all shades of wrong.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      ^requesting them for school teachers.
      Sorry, I was so annoyed I typed faster than I could think.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yes! This is why when I cleaned out our supply closet at work, there were a million random nonsense that we’d never use [the person before me who did the supply orders was excessive, to put it nicely], I reached out to my friend who’s close to her school district folks. Small town podunk USA, they were thrilled to receive the extras. My boss was like “Oh! Yeah donate them, that’s a great idea!” when I told him of my idea.

      1. AndersonDarling*

        As I’ve been reading these comments, I keep thinking of all the folder organizers, trays, and other odds and ends that I’ve thrown in dumpsters in the last 10 years since my offices have gone paperless. Why didn’t I think to donate any of that stuff! There were storage closets full of things teachers could have used!

        1. Not a Blossom*

          At my old job, when we moved floors and cleaned things out, the amount of office supplies that were thrown out was sickening. There are so many low-income schools nearby, but we couldn’t donate. I snuck out what I could and donated it personally.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            Why couldn’t they?! Are they some kind of group that can’t donate things because it’ll look like “special interests” or something?!

            I know there are so many laws and regs on some businesses that can tie hands [I hate it and again, this is why I stay in the private, for profit world also because I like money but I like having my own choices more tbh]. I’m glad you snuck some away, even though tsk tsk breaking rules tsk [but good job ;)]

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          That’s totally normal, most places just trash things because it’s the easiest thing to do than hunting down a school or teacher.

          I come from a very “throwing away things is for trash not usable things” background, so it’s second nature. I know that often it’s just “throw it away, get it out of my hair” for others. I don’t like clutter but I also don’t like to throw away things I can see being used somewhere else =)

          Now you know though, now you can do something different if put in that situation or if you hear a friend’s work is getting rid of their clutter =) We live and we learn, it’s the beauty of life.

  22. Snarkus Aurelius*

    You may also want to point out to your principal that you already HAVE paid out your fair share to the school in the form of taxes. Even if you rent, a portion of your rent goes towards property taxes, which, as you already know, funds schools.

    If she pushes, you can tell her that of course “it looked better to the community if the teachers pitched in more” because that means you’re picking up the tab for someone else. The people who don’t have to pay are always a big fan of that! Smile and laugh as though you would expect she would agree with that.

    If she’s willing to rifle through your personal finances to find money you’re under zero obligation to pay and, as noted above, you technically already have, I wonder if she has made a promise to someone on this matter. Worth probing further if she has. I can totally see how something like this would wow all the powerful people who would be thrilled at not having to pay for something they’re supposed to be ensuring payment of!

  23. Storie*

    At our school, the room parent does the asking on behalf of the teacher. The needs are communicated and the ask is either specific supplies or a suggested donation. Sometimes there’s a signup genius for certain supplies. It’s understood that this is what is done to ensure the classrooms have what they need, without the teacher having to go into debt. I’m sure there are sometimes people who can’t afford to contribute, but it always works out. And not one parent bats an eye. I’m not sure about your community, OP, but ours is a middle class area within a large metropolitan city. Parents know the school is great because we all chip in.

    I’m sorry that your principal is cuckoo!

    1. CupcakeCounter*

      just posted below about this – teacher send a list day 1 of “needs” than a lot of other communications regarding “wants” will come from a room parent

    2. OP*

      I kind of like that idea. I have mixed feelings about students having to bring in supplies, but also accept it’s the way of some areas.

      1. OhBehave*

        Our local schools send supply lists with registration materials in July. There’s usually 25 items for each grade. I always recycled supplies as I could. It’s been this way for 20 years (that I’ve had kids in school). Our elementary teachers have wish lists on their web pages too. Extras not on the regular supply list.
        We were always happy to buy extra.

  24. AES*

    Another (horrifying, why-does-it-have-to-be-this-way-but-here-we-are) option: does your school have any tutoring partnerships? My university places tons of student teachers at extremely underfunded public schools and we’ve started doing school supply drives for our classroom partners. It is simply horrific that there isn’t the funding to cover basic materials like notebooks, but since there apparently isn’t, we’re doing what we can. If you have anything like that, you might reach out to the placement coordinator to see if something similar might be possible. And yeah, seconding as well. It is to teachers what Go Fund Me is to healthcare now, apparently.

  25. Phony Genius*

    Found this in an internet article:

    “According to the National Center of Education Statistics, 94% of teachers report spending their own money on supplies. On average, a teacher will spend $479 a year, but 7% spent more than $1,000.”

    Putting aside whether your should do this at all, $3,000 is certainly way beyond the norm. If you still want to buy something, try your local dollar stores.

    1. Nemo*

      Well, this is new information for me. Just WHY and HOW is this normal for the teaching profession? Does Canada or other countries operate this way as well? My student self is horrified that teachers are expected to use their own salaries to stock a classroom.

      1. Eleanor Konik*

        So, some of it is for stuff we “want” to do but don’t “have” to do. For example, last year I did an Latin American Agriculture activity where I purchased aluminum trays, some dirt, some lima beans, etc. to create a hands-on STEM activity so the kids could really learn about social hierarchy and threats to agriculture and chinampas and Incan terracing, etc. That probably cost about $50 for the one lesson, not a big deal and I can afford it. This is pretty common for science teachers who want to do their jobs WELL but the district doesn’t have the funding to support labs; teachers care about their students and aren’t always willing to half-*** things the low-cost way (e.g.

        Some of it is quality of life concerns — for example, organizational supplies aren’t covered by my (relatively well off) district, so I have to buy my own portable file manager that I use for make-up work, my own bins to PUT the colored pencils and rulers in, etc.

        Some of it is decorations. Did I *need* cloth for my bulletin boards? No, but it only cost me like $20, I can re-use it every year, and it saves me SO MUCH TIME because paper fades and looks awful after like 6 months, plus my school doesn’t actually have the big butcher-style paper and people end up using colored paper and it’s honestly awful. But if our room doesn’t “look nice” or like an environment that will support student happiness and self-esteem we can be penalized on our observation reports.

        The rest of it, though, is stuff you just NEED that the school district or individual school is too poor to shell out for, like art supplies for an art teacher, or a projector when yours breaks, or 100 pencils a quarter because kids lose stuff, some kids are poor, you need hand sanitizer and tissues and schools doesn’t normally provide that, etc. That stuff gets expensive.

        1. Eleanor Konik*

          Oops, some stuff got lost. I meant to say “e.g. it’s possible to do science completely using worksheets but like, that’s awful, ineffective, and a recipe for classroom discipline problems, especially if OTHER teachers in the same grade are willing to shell out for labs.”

        2. Sophie Hatter*

          I know you’re saying “It’s not that much” but even spending that much of your own $ would still be unacceptable in ANY other workplace/industry. My parents are teachers and I was in high school or later before I realized that not everyone devotes their heart and soul (and evenings, and weekends, and gets a summer job on top of a regular one…) to their work.

          Thank you for all you do. You sound like an awesome teacher.

          1. Eleanor Konik*


            I guess what I’m saying is…. for ME and MY CLASSROOM (this is not true everywhere) I’m making a distinct choice between “good enough” and “exemplary” and I generally don’t ask the school district to subsidize my going above and beyond. Plus, like, timing is an issue? The PTA would totally have bought most of that stuff if I’d asked for it at the beginning of the year, but I had the idea over the weekend which was too late…

            On the other hand, my school district gives me a flat $300 extra in my paycheck to spend on my classroom supplies, plus my department chair is happy to buy anything that is on the “approved” list from office depot (so like, not ANYTHING I want, but if I want the fancy bulletin borders, I get the fancy bulletin board borders). So I don’t begrudge it.

            If I worked in an office and I wanted my fancy pilot varsity fountain pens pens but the admin would only only buy flair pens, I would probably still buy the fountain pens, and I doubt anyone would think that’s weird.

            The point I’m trying to make is more that some stuff is choice, between i.e. (1) a pinterest-ready classroom is awesome, (2) a bright and engaging room is necessary for optimum student performance and (3) in a pinch, hand-drawn student work will do. I tend not to feel too bad for teachers who pay for option 1. Option 2… yeah, the school should do that much, ESPECIALLY when it’s a section on the stupid observation form :(

          2. fposte*

            I wouldn’t say it would be unacceptable in any other industry, but teaching does depend on it in a way that’s unusual.

      2. Asenath*

        That was never the situation in Canada when I was a student, and, briefly, a teacher. Of course, education in Canada is run by the provinces, so situations vary from province to province. Naturally, schools are often raising money for special events like school trips, and I have heard that in the lower grades there are ridiculously long lists of things each child should bring. There are some local groups that raise money for school supplies on these lists for needy families.

        I’ve suspected, on the basis of no information whatsoever, that part of the difference is in how education is organized. I have been told that in the US, school systems tend to be very local, and funding depends on their area. Well, of course, our schools are local too, but they are run by larger school boards – districts they call them now – I could write a long and tedious screed about the development of education in my province, but I’ll spare you all. But the boards don’t finance the schools, they just distribute the money. The provincial government forks out the money – and there are complicated and much debated formulas about how much each school gets. They consider the number of students, how many grades (and which ones – to allow more specialist teaching in the higher grades), the number of students needing special assistance and the type of assistance they need, and so on. I think this smooths out the economic differences between schools in rich neighbourhoods and ones in poor neighbourhoods, although of course there are often arguments about allocations.

        I never, in my short stint as a teacher, used my own money for school supplies. Maybe the teachers in the lower grades, where classroom decoration is more important, did from time to time, but I’m sure it wasn’t to the level described here. If I wanted some books ordered for the school library, I gave a list to the part-time librarian, who ordered them out of her budget. If I wanted lab equipment or supplies, I requested them through the school board. They had a crazy tendency, when cutting the budget, to cut the order by the required percentage without checking first if that would mean I’d get half what I needed for several experiments instead of everything for one experiment. But they wouldn’t tell me to buy it myself.

        1. Chinookwind*

          You are lucky you never spent your own money. I know I did as a junior/senior high school teacher. I even know the amount because I had everything burn up in a school fire in September 15 years ago. Replacement value of what I lost was something like $600 (most of it in the form of pre-planned lesson packs, Scholastic books and bulletin board decorations). The average student claim was between $100 and $750. The range was because it was a K to 12 school with little kids having only minimal supplies, jackets, shoes and backpacks while older kids had scientific calculators and band instruments. As this was pre-smartphone and only a couple of teachers had laptops, the cost is low compared to what a similair claim would be made today.

          When I went to spend that $600 on teaching supplies (my insurer required me to show proof of purchase of similar items since I didn’t have original receipts), it was actually hard to spend it all on needs and wants, even in light of the fact that I was restocking my classroom from scratch because everything we really needed was covered by the school board’s insurance (for what they owned).

      3. Shan*

        Former teacher from Canada here – it depends on your school/district, but in my experience, teachers still put a lot of their own money into their classrooms. Basic supplies are provided, and we generally have quite a bit of tech equipment, but all the “extras” that people picture (posters, bulletin board borders, rug for story time, stickers, etc) are personally funded. And those things aren’t cheap! But you want your students to enjoy their time in your room. It’s crappy for them to be stuck staring at bare walls all day, and reading the same five books.

        My mom just retired after 45 years, and she had a fantastic collection of books and other supplies. She gifted it all to a couple of her recent student teachers since I’d noped out of the profession. It was easily several thousands of dollars worth of stuff, and that didn’t include all the things that she’d have to restock every year.

      4. Middle School Teacher*

        As others have mentioned, it depends on the province. Personally the teachers at my school $250 each to spend on consumables, and I usually end up supplementing that by around $250 again. But I teach higher grades, so I don’t need to buy what elementary teachers do. I also don’t have a ton of decorations in my room (again, not elem so it’s a bit different).

        But keep in mind that most teachers in Canada make a lot more money than their US counterparts too.

        Regardless, OP’s situation is insane and unacceptable. I’m really sorry you’re dealing with that, OP.

      5. Rebecca*

        Canadian teacher here, but I’ve been teaching abroad. I’ve never taught anywhere that’s as bad as the US for teacher spending, but I always spend my own money. The difference us that everywhere I’ve taught, I don’t really have to. The basics are all covered – I’ve never bought pencils or notebooks. I spend for specific activities I want to do (I spent 20 or 3p bucks at the garden center for seedljngs for a garden for example), for a specific text or book I want and then photocopies it for the class, for anything I want to continue to own as I move schools, like my escape room kit, for my classroom library (which I own and which comes with me), and on lessons from teachers pay teachers because a $12 novel study unit is worth it to buy all my evenings back.

  26. goducks*

    I’ve never worked in education, but as a parent I’d be absolutely LIVID if I learned that the principal had told a teacher in my kids’ school that A. putting in their own funds makes them look better and B. that the principal asked to see the teacher’s personal budget.
    The gall!!! I would not trust such a principal to provide acceptable leadership in the school! I don’t care whether the amount was $3 or $3,000. It’s messed up that teachers end up footing any of that, to say that it looks good to the parent community???? No, it does not.

  27. GreenDoor*

    My husband’s company still uses the archaic method of having employees buy their own airfare and book hotels using their personal credit cards than reimbursing them. That alone – that we float their costs for a month before the reimbursement comes – has me seeing red. The idea that OP’s boss wants access to her personal finances for the sole purpose of finding ways that the OP can foot the bill for costs the school should be pay for is just insane. OP, are you contracted? If so, I’d be inclined to get a little more mouthy about this. Particularly to the school board. This is beyone the assumption that teachers pay for a lot of classroom things – this is your boss BLATENTLY telling you that you are expected to fork over several thousand dollars in salary to fund the school. Also, when parents complain, mke sure to tell them specfically, “I’d like to do X but I need Y and I was told I’d have to pay for Y out of my own pocket which, I’m sure you’d agree, is unreasonable for me to do.” Let the parents know why their kids classroom lacks resources!

    1. Database Developer Dude*

      Worse…the DoD requires travelers to use the Government Credit Card for travel, but the risk is on the traveler, even if the Defense Finance and Accounting Service takes its sweet time reimbursing them. The traveler is still responsible for paying the card balance. Not only that, there’s mandatory split disbursement on travel vouchers. That means you have to specify a certain amount to go directly to the card, but the government can take its sweet time doing the reimbursement. You’ll then have to pay, and get a refund later.

    2. YouGottaThrowtheWholeJobAway*

      Honestly if an employer ever asks me to do this again I will just say, “sure, my lending rate is 25% interest after day 2.”

    3. Eleanor Konik*

      Yeaaaaah I gotta admit that I would at least TOUCH BASE with my local union about this and see what they had to say in terms of giving advice. My union is pretty good about being up front with stuff like “lol yeah that sucks but you don’t have tenure and it’s not worth pushing back on, you won’t get anywhere” so at least you can get a sanity check / advice localized to your region???

    4. OP*

      I am contracted. My acquaintance at the district office says each school is given what is apparently a decent enough budget intended to supply the classrooms with at least the basics, but that each school in the district got to choose how to distribute funds. Ideally, that’s more along the lines of handing out the money directly vs turn in your receipts vs school accounts to major retailers.

      I chatted with various teachers throughout the morning, and it really does seem that for so long enough teachers just bought enough things without reimbursement or purchase orders that proper use of the budget fell by the wayside.

      Tragically, there are a lot of teachers I work with who really do have that mentality of sacrificing for the students, but it’s definitely a school cultural thing that went to the dark side.

      1. Heidi*

        Is there any transparency as to how the budget is spent? Not to say that there’s anything hinky going on, but it might be informative to know what the school actually is buying with its discretionary funds. If they need the money to keep the heat on in the winter, I maybe wouldn’t feel as bad about not having money for supplies.

        1. Mama Bear*

          Agreed. One year we did not have afterschool activities. After a lot of digging, we finally got the school to admit that it was because we didn’t have the funds for buses so we weren’t allowed to have anything after school for anybody. Turned out that the principal had messed up and lost funds but wasn’t going to say boo to the parents until we noticed there were zero activities for our children. If there’s a budget, then there should be a spreadsheet on how it was spent. Even the PTA needs to do that.

        2. Turtle Candle*

          Yeah, I think this makes a difference. Like, the situation is terrible all ’round, but there’s a whole range of possibilities here. (As I mentioned upthread, in the school district in my hometown this kind of discretionary funding tended to go to whatever project someone loud and influential wanted, so you might shell out a lot of money to something like sending the glee club to state championships and then not have it left over for, you know, pencils. Because the former is cool and exciting and looks good to outsiders, and the latter is boring and mundane.)

      2. Ingalls*

        Wow. Now I am more angry.
        Where is the budgeted money?
        What method did they choose to distribute the funds?
        If they’re not distributing the funds, where are they?

      3. Impy*

        Is it possible that the supply budget has been distributed to the principal’s pocket? Because her behaviour is extremely shady.

      4. RandomU...*

        Thanks for the additional information…

        “Tragically, there are a lot of teachers I work with who really do have that mentality of sacrificing for the students, but it’s definitely a school cultural thing that went to the dark side.”

        This line struck out at me, it reminds me of the descriptions of working in the non-profit world.

        FWIW, I think you are absolutely right in pursuing the reimbursement. If nothing else it could be a watershed moment for other teachers :)

  28. Anonymouseducator*

    Your principal is off base asking to see your personal budget. School budgets are struggling, yes. But each year there is typically at least some money allocated for supplies/classrooms.

    However, having been an educator for a decade myself, I can’t help but wonder exactly what you’re asking for that amounts to 3k to set up a classroom.
    That being said, maybe your school is already failing to provide at least the bare minimum that most schools do. In that case, the 3k may make *slightly* more sense. I can understand and see how one may need quite a few hundred $ to set up, but thousands does seem exorbitant.

    1. MaxiesMommy*

      She didn’t ask for $3,000. She was told that was what was ‘expected’ for her to kick in. This principal is on the take.

    2. OP*

      I’m not actually entirely sure what I am supposed to buy that adds up to that much money. My principal just says that is what she usually sees teachers spend. And, scarily enough, my subtle chatting up of teachers under the guise of the new lady in the building trying to grasp the culture said that’s true. A lot admitted to spending around $2000, give or take a hundred.

      I was actually hoping to just get some crayons, gluesticks, pencils, paper, markers. I am far from cutesy, so the décor will be more minimalist. If I were to give in, I doubt I would spend nearly that much, but I didn’t think I was trying to build Solomon’s Classroom, by any stretch of the imagination.

      1. Samwise*

        Do NOT give in. It sounds like for whatever reason your school does not have a process, so see my suggestion above and ask the principal what the process is for buying supplies from the supply budget given by the district. Play dumb if you need to, but absolutely do NOT spend your own money unless the principal gives a damn good reason why there is no money. “That’s what our teachers have done for years” is a crappy non-answer and a good principal would NOT let this happen — a good principal would let the teachers know how much $ they had available and would ensure that every last penny of it was spent too.

        If teachers are not requesting $ from that fund and have not done for years, that money is going *somewhere*, there is no way on God’s Green Earth that it’s just sitting around unused or getting returned to the district.

        1. Anonymouseducator*

          My apologies. Maybe I misread/misunderstood that the 3k was your estimate. Your principal is a jerk and way off base with that amount. My district gives around $300 in supply money. That combined with supplies parents are buying should be ok to start with. I agree with others. Don’t give in or feel pressured. My first year teaching I spent maybe $300-400 out of pocket. My state currently allows all teachers to claim a $250 annual deduction. I know it can feel tempting to match/keep up with other teachers who have everything super cutesy and lots of extras in the classroom, too, especially if you’re at the elementary level. However, recent research shows this can actually be detrimental to the learning environment. So don’t feel bad if you can’t have all the matchy matchy cutesy stuff. It sounds like you may not be at a Title I school, but if you are, then Title I funds *should* assist with a lot of things. And hopefully you’ll get some great parents who ask what else they can get for the classroom and/or buy extras from the student supply list. Good luck and ignore as much of what your principal is saying as you can-they are way off base when it comes to this.

          1. Anonymouseducator*

            Also, your coworkers are crazy for spending that much and they have no one to blame but themselves.

      2. Librarianne*

        OP, you really don’t need to spend much money on decor. My husband’s classroom walls are bare at the beginning of the year but quickly fill up with student artwork and projects. Over the years students have let him keep a few pieces, so he now has stuff to hang up even on the first day of class. And the students really enjoy seeing each other’s work!

    3. Rebecca*

      If you go on ointerest or teachers’ Facebook groups you’ll see some incredibly expensive, fancy classrooms that teachers have basically renovated and decorated themselves. They’re buying paint and sofas. There’s a culture of ‘anything for the kids’ that can go too far, and I’ve seen teachers fall into a trap of being pressured to prove their dedication and passion in really inappropriate ways. If they have these pinterest-level classrooms, if would easily be thousands. Some of them are nicer than any apartment i’ve lived in.

  29. CupcakeCounter*

    The principle and the community sucks if they expect teachers to pay $3k of their already too low salary on supplies for the classroom. My son’s school provides a ton and the usually supplies and then posts lists of teacher requests for each year. The teacher’s also send home on the first day of school requests for things like anti-bacterial wipes, tissues, a list of books they would like to add to the classroom library, etc… Maybe it is just my community but we usually get an email by that first Friday asking us to STOP sending stuff in as they have too much now. The front office (as well as the overall district office) also have lists of larger “dream” items for the teachers/school or a way to contribute to a fund for students who have a hard time providing their own school supplies.

    Fight back and see if you can get some other teachers involved to say that this HAS to stop. There is no reason that teachers should be providing normal classroom materials.

    1. MaxiesMommy*

      The cardiology unit at our hospital had a “dream list”. A refrigerator was on it because the recovery room was far from other refrigerators and the kitchen–it was a trek even for ice chips. When my husband was recovering I went online and ordered them one. I didn’t tell them I was relieved because it was the cheapest thing on the list!

      1. Heidi*

        Our hospital keeps an Amazon Wish List of supplies they want. Some items are inexpensive, like little toys for the playroom, but there are also video games and equipment they use for therapy. There’s a shipping address that’s anonymous, and you can email a link to possible contributors. It’s a good place for gift ideas also.

  30. Interplanet Janet*


    In our district, teachers have traditionally asked parents to send in a lot of the things that were probably on your list. We got a new superintendent recently, who thinks that even THAT is gross, and took the time and energy to provide district funds to cover those cost. That’s how leadership is done!

    1. CupcakeCounter*

      That is a great superintendent!!!!! Can we clone him/her and send one to each district in the country?

  31. QuestJen*

    My daughter is set to graduate college in 2 years and become an elementary school teacher (she wants kindergarten /1st). Since she’ll have zilch stating out to outfit her first classroom, I’m trying to set aside a short of “dowry” for this. I was told that $1000 would be about right. For the teachers reading this, does this sound to low? From the sound of this article, maybe I’m WAY too low?

    1. Scarlett*

      It depends on the school. In some cases, K/1 teachers are not given any books for students to read within their classrooms. In my experience, that is usually a big Up-Front cost at that grade level, as students of that age need a lot of different books (they are quick to read and also students’ reading levels go from reading pictures only to reading multiple sentences per page). When I was a teacher, especially when first starting out, I would easily spend $1K per year just on books. Let alone the other needed supplies like dry erase markers, pens/pencils and even copy paper—we could use the school copier but had to supply our own paper. Whatever you do will help.

      1. Emmeileia*

        When I set up my classroom used book sales were a godsend. Otherwise my kids would *still* have nothing to read! In five years of teaching I have been given exactly 4 books that were intended for my classroom library, rather than to be shared by three classes of the same grade. Two were promotional from a bank, and two from a place trying to sell me resources.

  32. Bend & Snap*

    As a member of the community, I’m pretty sure nobody wants to see teachers paying for stuff out of pocket. It looks awful and also what is the school doing with my taxes if not providing basic classroom supplies for students?

    1. fposte*

      It would be nice if everybody agreed, but lots of people are perfectly happy to have teachers paying for stuff out of pocket if the alternative is a tax hike. (And, of course, lots of people in the community don’t have money in the first place.)

  33. MonteCristo85*

    Wow. I would tend to go with “My budget is private, and I won’t be sharing it. Additionally, if I were able to pull $3K out of it, I have other personal financial matters I would want to tend to.”

    1. Eleanor Konik*

      In education, the idea that you might have other priorities than your students would make you seem wildly out of touch, unfortunately.

      I know people who work from 6am – 10pm who are the SINGLE PARENT FOR TWIN TODDLERS and think this is fine. Who had to RETURN THEIR ACTUAL BIOLOGICAL CHILDRENS’ CHRISTMAS PRESENTS because of budgetary issues, but feel a deep-seated need to throw an end-of-year pizza party for ALL of their students (not the top ten, not the six who were really helpful, all of them).

      The expectations on teachers are insane.

      1. RoadsLady*

        Ugh. I knew of a case where a teacher didn’t pay her daycare provider in order to buy a student a prom dress.

        I teach. I attempt to stick to contract and by and large I’m not bad at it. My reason is I have little ones at home and, as sexist as it may sound, one reason I went into teaching is because I thought it would be a good mom job.

        And it is when you balance your life.

        1. RandomU...*

          This and the comment you are replying to is truly bizarre. I feel like this is one of those expectations people put on themselves. And I suspect that teachers like this are warping what is really expected, and what they ‘think’ is expected.

          I spend my own money on job related things… but would never do anything like this. I’m comfortably writing this from the office chair I purchased and brought to the office. But it was my choice and if I didn’t want to do it, I would have requested one be purchased by my company for me.

          1. Eleanor Konik*

            That’s the thing though… once enough people put this expectation on themselves, it spirals to the people around them and becomes the norm… and when you say things like “wait no, I’m not going to spend 30 hours writing lengthy personalized comments for every essays” well then, sometimes (depending on school culture) you get a reputation as a bad teacher and your administrators start deliberately giving you terrible assignments and frequent room changes to push you into transferring so they can increase their odds of getting a teacher who is “more involved.”

            Eventually of course, so many people burn out that the school system gets understaffed, and there’s a teacher shortage, and you wind up with only people who go overboard like this working, so it reinforces the cultural norm while also creating a horrible work environment for the newbies, most of whom burn out under 5 years…

            … ask me how I know :/

        1. Eleanor Konik*

          Never “too much.” Just… the teaching culture does really encourage and thrive on the mentality that any sacrifice is worth it for one’s students.

          Not to say I think this is GOOD or anything (and I almost never work past 5 now that I’m not scrambling through my first year) just… there’s a limited amount of pushback of the “haha no I will not be making this sacrifice” that would actually *work* in a school without making you seem callous/cold to many other teachers.

  34. Another Manic Monday*

    This whole thing is absurd to somebody who grew up in a North European school system. Both my parents are retired teachers and they never had to spend a single dime on school supplies and neither did the students. The public school provided for all necessary supplies for the school year. The only exception was the protective wrapping you had to buy for your school books.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      That was true enough when I was a pupil but not now I have school age children. May be related to credit crunch?

      Incidentally I think there’s a difference between a teacher buying materials/ subscription/ whatever for the classroom, and buying for herself (which she takes with her when she moves jobs). Teachers should not be out of pocket for consumables like pencils and paper, but I know when my mother retired from teaching she took “her” materials home (and promptly donated them to my children’s school. Four or five cohorts of tinies have made use of those giant dominoes etc!).

    2. Koala dreams*

      I see a trend of requiring parents to pay more for extras in my north european school system, but yes, basic school supplies are expected to be paid from the school budget. Parents might be expected to pay for special outings, snacks, protective wrapping, pencil cases and such. The textbooks, pencils, erasers, rulers, calculators, lab equipement and furniture are the school’s responsibility.

      1. pandop*

        I am well out of school, but at primary school everything in the classroom was provided (and my Mum taught primary school, and didn’t spend much of her own money, if any – and certainly not on basic supplies), but you had to have a school uniform, and if there was a trip then there might be a cost.
        Secondary school was much the same regarding uniforms and trips, but by then it was more common to have your own pens/calculator etc, and you would have to bring ingredients in for cookery classes, but never for anything else.

  35. remizidae*

    What happens if you just…don’t buy the things? Right now it seems like parents are being given the wrong impression when they see classrooms filled with supplies and may not realize the teachers are paying for them themselves.

    I’m not enthusiastic about parents being asked for donations either, but if a tax raise isn’t an option at least that would spread the cost over more than one person per classroom.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      YES. It’s like working 12-hour days because you’re understaffed, and the grandboss says you don’t need to hire anyone else because you are still meeting your quotas/goals. Because you are still getting everything done, of course upper management gets the impression that the workload is sustainable and manageable when it is not.

      Please, everyone, let’s not normalize this. Teachers should not have to pay for school supplies, full stop.

    2. CupcakeCounter*

      I (as a parent) don’t mind subsidizing the classroom costs – especially to the tune of about $50 per child per school year. My kid is the one getting the benefit and while I do pay the property taxes, the reality is that I have to pay those anyway and I consider those sort of a sunk cost.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Parents already buy supplies every year. Even 30 years ago when I was starting Kindergarten, my mom had to buy facial tissue that the teacher collected at the beginning of the year and stored away for classroom use. Along with the standard each-kid’s supplies, which often aren’t enough for an entire year. I mean a package of pencils and crayons only goes so far and the school year is usually Sept-June here.

    4. CM*

      This is my question, too. If you legitimately need these supplies to do your job (like markers for the dry erase board, etc) and you refuse to pay for them out of pocket — especially if you collectively refuse to buy them — won’t it force the issue at a certain point? Like, won’t it become obvious that no one in the entire school can ever write anything on the board because the school won’t buy markers, and then won’t the school be shamed into paying for markers?

      Or, if you’re an art teacher and the school won’t pay for art supplies and the kids practice drawing with their fingers every day… won’t that also become obvious?

      There’s something I’m not getting.

      1. Kt*

        The part you’re not getting is that in many (not all) schools/communities, no one with power over the budget will care. Oh, you have no art supplies so the kids just chat through class? Hey, as long as there’s no arson there’s no problem. Seriously. Look at the current teacher stats: 33% of middle school math teachers don’t have a math degree or a math teaching certification. Does anyone really care? Not enough to change this. I had classes in high school where the teacher was simply not prepared or not interested. We chatted for a year. Who would do anything about it? What would they do? There’s a teacher shortage and a substitute shortage in many places.

        I taught precalculus at the college level at a small regional SLAC. All of my students had taken precalculus in high school, but they had stories like this: “My teacher got cancer so we just had a lot of subs for the whole year and they didn’t know math.” “My teacher spent all his time flirting with this one girl and so he didn’t really teach anything.” “My teacher was having health problems so we just did worksheets and watched movies.”

        1. Slartibartfast*

          And for anyone thinking this is an isolated or low-income thing…I attended a class like that, in an affluent area at the 3rd highest ranked high school in the state, because the main teacher was ill and the sub had no idea what to do. I couldn’t even tell you now what the subject was, but I do remember having lotion being squirted on my jacket and books being thrown.

  36. ZarinC*

    As a parent, I’m happy to purchase supplies –we always got a list from the teacher. Isn’t this the norm (at least in the U.S.)?

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      This is for more than the standard supplies that you get at the beginning of the year. Think like dry erase pens for their boards [I assume we’re not using chalk boards anymore in most places], art supplies that run out quickly that the beginning of the year supply usually isn’t enough to cover, books for their book corners, etc. Also supplies for the kids who will lose or simply cannot afford them, so most teachers have the extras.

      1. Bend & Snap*

        I wish there were a better away to collectively provide for kids who have a hard time affording school supplies. Or lunch, for that matter.

        I’m just beginning the public school journey with my kid. She did private kindergarten last year and I got really annoyed with the $$$ classroom supplies on top of tuition. That does not annoy me in public school.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          They do have organizations and supply drives at the beginning of the year at a lot of office-supply chains I’ve seen. Kind of like the canned food drives they do at various organizations. I see them at places like Staples and such.

          The big problem though is that you need it more than once a year.

          I kind of wish we’d just all adopt a GD classroom and donate to them…despite the fact that’s essentially what our taxes are supposed to be doing but of course they cut education first because LOL who needs an educated next-generation [rage. so much rage. I don’t even have kids. I will explode one day with all this rage.]

      2. Turtle Candle*

        Yeah, and this is where you start to get angry parent complaints, because the way they see it is “Sally’s teacher is teaching them science by growing beans, and we just have stupid worksheets.” “Nate’s teacher’s classroom is full of books for reading time, but all we have is the reader.” “Jeannie’s class does art every Friday afternoon and we never do art.” The parents don’t see (or, in some cases, don’t care) that that’s because Sally/Nate/Jeannie’s teacher is paying out of pocket for all those supplies. They care that their kid has less learning enrichment and somebody else’s kid (at the very same school, no less) is getting that enrichment and they complain. Which reflects badly on the teacher, which may have repercussions, which is why a lot of teachers just suck it up and pay for this stuff.

        It sucks, but it’s not entirely internal teacher-pressure. It’s a whole culture around this, and it really can have an affect on a career.

    2. Eleanor Konik*

      Things like tissues, extra pencils, etc. are student supplies.

      Teachers also need supplies. Think file folders, grading pens, sharpies for labeling, dry erase markers, organizing bins, etc. That stuff doesn’t usually get put on the “list of supplies to send home to parents.”

    3. wittyrepartee*

      There’s an absolutely hysterical video where a woman tells people to stop complaining about the list of supplies.

      “I have spent hours of my life teaching my daughter math and history. I don’t know anything about history, and there’s a lady somewhere willing to teach my daughter about some history? And she wants a yellow binder to do it? I’m gonna get that b**** a yellow binder.”

  37. Ann Furthermore*

    OMG, this is awful. I’m very involved in the PTO at my daughter’s school and have been since she started preschool there 8 years ago. Our whole mission is to raise money to pay for “extras” (in quotes because none of these things should really be extras; they are all things that benefit all the students) like subscriptions to reading programs used for reading comprehension, library technology, and science kits. That allows the principal to use as much of her budget as she can on people, because we can’t raise money for something like someone’s salary.

    Never once has she ever said anything about teachers paying out of their own pockets so things would look better to the community. In fact it’s quite the opposite. She has said that she really hates that she can’t give the teachers more to spend on their classrooms.

    I’m constantly frustrated and infuriated by people who don’t understand anything about how education funding works. Last year, our PTO had the money to replace the old, 70’s era marquee in front of the school and replace it with a really nice electronic one. At the same time, there were also 2 ballot issues for a mill levy override (to help with teacher raises, etc) and a bond issue (for capital improvements), that were really desperately needed. The superintendent asked all the schools in the district to hold off on making any big purchases that could be considered “flashy” or “extravagant” because people might see them and thing, “Well, they enough money for a new marquee, so they must be fine. I’m voting no.” So we held off until closer to the end of the school year, and it was delivered and installed over the summer. And it’s programmed to flash “New Marquee! Thanks PTO!!!” after every announcement/update (like when school starts, when back to school night is, etc.)

    That such great pains have to be taken to make sure people know that the school isn’t wasting money really makes me mad. According to Forbes, this is one of the 10 wealthiest counties in the US — due to a lot of professional athletes and tech gurus living here. So for all the schools have to be pinching pennies and losing teachers to other districts because they’ll get paid $10K or more for doing the same job just enrages me. OMG, I have to stop, I feel a rant coming on.

    1. E*

      Asking teachers to pay this much out of their own salary is what will look bad to the community.

    2. Beancounter Eric*

      Answer a dumb question for me, please:….why does a school need a marquee sign?

      I ask because the High School stones throw from my house got a very nice digital marquee sign over the summer – I get to see who is Player of the Week, or Staff Member of the Year, or slogan of the day when I drive past…..all well and good, but why do they need anything beyond a sign announcing “XYZ High School”?

      And going off on a tangent, I have never understood the idea of “school spirit”…..didn’t understand it when I was in school, and don’t understand it years later.


      1. goducks*

        A lot of schools use them to announce upcoming events.
        Sept 15: Back to school night, 5 pm
        Oct 22: PTA meeting, 6pm
        Oct 29-30: Parent Teacher Conferences
        It’s so parents and relevant community members are aware of events. When newsletters are sent home with kids, they rarely make them to the actual parents which means parents are often unaware of such things.

        Does any school need one? No. But they absolutely are useful tools for communication.

        1. Ann Furthermore*

          Exactly. Some parents don’t read emails. Others don’t go through the stuff their kids bring home, some don’t go to the school website, and so on. My daughter’s school uses it for announcements like these, and also to remind parents about fundraising events, school breaks, and days when there’s no school.

          We also wanted a digital marquee to modernize a bit. The school is in a nice neighborhood, but it’s older. It and most of the homes were built in the late 70s or early 80s. The digital marquee helps bring the school into the 21st century.

        2. Oof*

          The elementary school on my commute has one, and I love it! I see what is going on, so I know when there are half-days, etc., and I can adjust my commute accordingly. With many of the children walking to school, I like to avoid going by at drop-off and pick-up times. Sure I am a safe driver, but it’s one less chance for an issue. And it’s exciting to see their awards and rankings!

  38. frostipaws*

    Why would any employee be expected to use funds from their own paycheck to purchase the supplies to do their job? That’s the employer’s responsibility. I am not a parent, but if I were, I would never expect a teacher to personally fund the education of my child or the others in the classroom.

    1. Eleanor Konik*

      Because the alternative is “children you care deeply about and see every day suffer in real and tangible ways that break your heart and ALSO make your job harder and your days more draining.”

      1. OP*

        It’s this notion I’m against. Sure, many who go into teaching have some level of selfless passion, but the spending behavior covers bigger issues and the punishment for pointing that out is accusations of hating the students.

        1. Eleanor Konik*

          Yep! I agree completely and I’m not trying to justify it or encourage it so much as explain WHY it happens. Especially in low income districts primarily staffed by well-meaning recent graduates who practically view their work as short-term charity work, or people who are … honestly not really great at setting boundaries (which is a lot of teachers I know).

      2. Observer*

        That explains why teachers give in. It does NOT explain why anyone EXPECTS it, though.

        1. Eleanor Konik*

          Yeah that one I can’t answer? A lot of people are entitled and don’t really stop to think about the impact it has on people?

          A lot of places where this happens (not necessarily the OP’s workplace, just, some places I’ve seen) it happens because the district itself is flat broke. Think “inner city” type places that have been catastrophically under-funded for years, with incredibly high poverty and unemployment rates. Half the time people working in those schools are doing it out of a sense of charity anyway (not the long-timers, I’m thinking the Teach-For-America types of bright-eyed bushy-tailed recent grads) and it’s not like those parents are in a position to be like “oh no, please, don’t feel like you have to give my kid a pencil, I’ll just advocate more with the school board!”

          The parents who WOULD be mostly send their kids to private school (which is a whole ‘nother topic entirely).

          1. Eleanor Konik*

            Follow-up; and while yes there is Title I money, it usually gets spent on things that are genuinely more important than, like, posters, grading markers, and rolly carts (no idea what the OP was asking for, those are just some things I’ve spent personal $$ on) etc.

            i.e. one school I worked at was fighting to try to find a way to replace textbooks that were 20 years out of date.

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          They expect it because enough have given in over the years to make the greedy pigs out there decide it’s the “norm” and okay to expect.

        3. Turtle Candle*

          I think in a way this is like… oh, you know how from time to time someone will write in like, “I volunteered to take the meeting notes twice in a row and now I’m expected to do it always and also to make the coffee and put in the lunch order even though those things have nothing to do with my job, help?” It’s like that.

          My guess is that this started happening in most places to make up for a temporary budgetary issue–and I don’t think there’s a school district in the country that hasn’t had at least one of those–and the teacher went, oh well, it’s not a big deal, I’ll buy the glitter glue and dry erase markers myself this year. But if you do that, then when the temporary budgetary issue is over… hey, wouldya look at that, we managed just fine! Because when people get cool stuff for free with no extra effort, they like that, and will rapidly come to expect it. And it creeps, and creeps, and creeps, and new people joining the profession see it as The Way Things Get Done, and at the end you’ve got people stuck doing the equivalent of making the coffee and ordering the lunches even though they’re actually a QA engineer.

          It’s mostly just that these kinds of expectations are easy to very accidentally set, and very very difficult to unset, so it doesn’t take much to get that ball rolling.

    2. Jennifer Thneed*

      The problem is — where does this particular employer’s money come from? With a for-profit business, it’s easy to see that the money comes from business income (=sales) but for government stuff, that money comes from public funding. Some from the state, some from county or city, and sadly, some from personal tithing like we’re seeing here.

  39. User 483*

    Does your community have a Facebook page or anything like that? Since the funds should generally be coming from the community anyway (usually hidden in the form of taxes), it wouldn’t be out of line to post this to the group and see if people can bring in extra supplies to donate.

    You don’t need to say anything bad about the school practice. Just “I’m a new teacher and can’t afford to buy supplies to stock in my classroom. Can anyone help with donating items from this list?” Or donating money, but people tend to be easier about giving objects than cash.

    We see that sort of thing in my local community and have several complete backpack/supply set drives for students too. Usually end up with more full backpacks than needed and then that gives extra supplies for future or for donating to kids and teachers in neighboring communities.

    At least in my area, no one looks down on the teachers for not wanting to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to help educate the community’s children.

    1. Clisby*

      I’m a member of a very active neighborhood FB group, and people often post asking things like this. Not just for schools – but I’ve seen posts by, say, a teacher asking if anyone has a box of elementary-level books lying unused in the basement, or people saying they’re decluttering and would anyone like a rug, a bookcase, and a floor lamp. So far we’ve donated a microwave to my son’s high school; a dorm-sized refrigerator so the English adjunct faculty at our community college have a place to put their lunches; and an aquarium. I’m just waiting for the post where I can give away a metal wine rack. Just saw a post about a school supply drive for one elementary school in the area, so when I was in Staples I bought 10 of the 50-cent composition books and dropped them off.

  40. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Woah. This kind of nonsense push back now makes more sense why so many teachers just pay for supplies themselves. What a horrific birds eye view of this nonsense you deal with because teaching isn’t difficult enough, let’s make sure you get the screws turned so that you don’t even get to take home the entirety of your pay. J.F.C.

    Your personal budget is no employers business. Ever. I cannot imagine it. I often do employee loans and the idea of saying “oh do you really need that? why not bring in your budget and let me help you!” and I’m a frigging financial person, unlike some random administration person who’s just going to be all “oh I see you buy new clothes. No need for those. Oh you buy Starbucks every Monday, nope, no treats ever. See there’s your 3k!” boo. hiisssssssssssssssss

    1. Amethystmoon*

      Yeah, and most people who are struggling financially don’t even buy Starbucks. I buy Folgers, rice & beans, and cans of tuna, and still struggle. I only ever get Starbucks if I’m lucky enough to get a gift card from someone at Christmas.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Very true. Though I do know tons of people who make meager wages that budget for their Starbucks fix, which I’m totally on board for. If your luxury item is a cup of coffee you enjoy, that’s cool and reasonable.

        It’s known that cutting out every luxury item and living on instant noodles and tap water isn’t good for your body or your mind. You need something “nice” to keep your spirits up in your struggle. If that’s some candy or a coffee or a budget Funko Pop, duncur, that’s what keeps some people from just tumbling over the edge.

        1. Amethystmoon*

          That and we do need some nutrition in our diets. I usually buy frozen veggies, but I get the private labels. Beans and tomatoes are the only things I buy canned. Frozen veggies are good to mix with brown rice, though. My luxury is a steaming hot bath a few times a week, and sometimes I even light a candle and put on music.

    2. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      It is wholly inappropriate, especially since a lot of people in low-paying service careers (social workers, teachers, nonprofit employees) are able to pursue a career in helping thanks to a high-earning spouse in a highly paid career (tech, engineering, finance.)

      While how two spouses split out their earnings and budget is no one’s business but their own, it is WAY overstepping for Spouse A’s boss to start demanding how Spouse B’s wages are spent.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I don’t come from a place where I see teachers coupling with high paying spouses even. Lots of teachers couple with each other and then they’re both on the hook for this nonsensical 3k each year! Nope nope nope nope nope.

        Lots of teachers essentially pledge a life of poverty to educate others and they’re repaid by being told to “budget better!”. Ick.

      2. Seifer*

        I… oh my god. That last sentence though. I can’t even imagine how that conversation with my fiance with be. “Babe, Boss says that you have to contribute less to your 401K because I told her I couldn’t contribute money to the 3D printer discretionary fund and she asked to look at our budget and said that that’s where we could get the money from. …Babe?”

        I think he’d be one of those guys that we hear about that calls the boss on behalf of their spouse.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          TBH, if it were my partner saying it, I too would be all “LOL WUT no, tell her to give me a call tho and we can chat.” I wouldn’t call but I would by all means chat if they wanted to pick up that phone and poke the bear themselves.

  41. Amethystmoon*

    Considering how underpaid teachers are, that’s a terrible policy. What, are they supposed to rack up thousands of dollars of credit card debt? There is no way I could afford an extra $3000 even with a corporate wage, and I’m a support person. I’ve got an unexpected large car expense this week that is going to be painful as it is.

    When I was a kid in school, the parents were expected to buy a lot of the supplies for their kids. Example: protractor, crayons, ruler, paper, etc. Has this changed in other places?

    1. Matilda Jefferies*

      Personal supplies, sure. But lots of schools ask parents to send in classroom supplies, or else the teacher pays their own money for them. At my kids’ school we’re always asked to send in several boxes of tissues for the classroom, as the board will not pay for them. And most of the things you see on the walls – alphabet charts, learning aids, etc – are often purchased by the teachers.

      1. Librarianne*

        Yes, this. My husband initially thought it was ridiculous to ask kids to bring in boxes of tissues, but he had so many people using the bathroom pass to go blow their nose that he bought an entire shelf’s worth of tissues from the dollar store after the first week of school. He also goes through dry erase markers like nobody’s business. Sure, he could put in a request for more, but the district will take a month to fill it and he’s got to write in the meantime.

      2. Turtle Candle*

        Yeah, and even if you go full minimalist with nothing on the walls but kids’ art and few or no books beyond textbooks and no science projects or art projects that would require materials and no stickers or stamps to put on stuff and no , you’re still potentially paying for things like, oh, pens and pencils for yourself, dry erase markers and erasers, folders, in/out boxes, grade books, binders, staplers/staples, thumb drives for transferring files around, etc. Sometimes even things like ‘the paper to go in the photocopier.’

        And of course many of the people who go into teaching aren’t really looking to have the kind of classroom with no charts on the walls and no science projects that would require materials, but even if they were, that stuff adds up.

    2. Mel (Cow Whisperer)*

      As a former teacher, I spent money on my classroom in lieu of hobbies, traveling, and fresh produce. I ate frozen veggies, ramen and those pasta mixes with some frozen veggies thrown in. Add in canned fruit in water and eggs for protein and you’ve got my meals for my first 4 years of teaching.

      I know how nuts that sounds – but I spent 7am – 9pm (with a few hours off in the middle of the day) in a classroom that was white-cinder block walls with grey industrial tiles and fluorescent lighting with a rotating cast of teenagers who were (teen parents, active gang members, on drugs, in foster care, refugees from war, unaccompanied minors, homeless – pick two per kid). My first classroom had five doors, but no windows to the outside or the hallway. My second classroom had a window in the front door that lined up so we could see a glimpse of a parking lot if you stood in the right spot – and that felt like a gift because I could see some daylight and guesstimate the weather. Add into the fact that Western Michigan in the winter has something like 99% cloud coverage and is dark from 5pm until 8am and you can probably guess why slapping color on walls was needed for everyone’s mental health.

      So I made choices. I bought/made absolutely hokey bulletin boards that celebrated every time a student finished a class. My students loved it because far too few of them had any adult who could cheer them on…so I guess “We’re hopping along to SUCCESS!” with die-cut frogs with their name and course completed felt empowering rather than juvenile. I kept my desk stocked with pencils that sharpened well, hand sanitizer, lotion, kleenex, highlighters and index cards so students could grab what they needed without having to ask. I stocked pads and tampons in the bathrooms because not having menstrual supplies sucks. I slowly accumulated science supplies chosen for usefulness in as many classes as possible. I looked through science education catalogues and MacGyvered kits for my classroom. I spent time learning as much Spanish as I could to communicate better with newcomer students and their parents. I wrote entire units around topics that my kids found interesting like human health/wellness or nutrition + chemistry or urban ecosystems during my 40 hours of unpaid work on top of my salaried duties. I found infants/toddler toys I could keep in my classroom so that I could babysit little ones while tutoring their moms (and some dads) who didn’t have backup care; I was never so proud as when I overheard one student who was a mom tell another teenage mom that I was great with babies considering I didn’t have my own. I felt like a million bucks!

      Spending money and time didn’t break me though; that was worth it because it improved my life and my kids’ lives.

      I eventually left teaching because I was always being told that all of our efforts weren’t good enough because my kids did horribly on the MME/ACT….which has been supplanted by some new acronym/SAT.

      Duly noted.

      1. Batgirl*

        This is both heartwarming and depressing. You cant prop up dysfunction and disinterest forever even with the best attitude.

      2. Matilda Jefferies*

        Oh my gosh. Your whole post brought tears to my eyes – and that last paragraph broke my heart.

        Thank you, for everything you did for all those people. You’ve made the world a better place.

  42. Matilda Jefferies*

    Oh HELL, no. If you don’t have the budget, you don’t have the budget. We get it. But you don’t get to throw me under the bus to justify it. I’m a member of the “community” in question, both because I pay taxes and because I have children in the public school system. And as such, I would like to say that it would NOT look better to me if teachers “pitched in more.” What would actually look better to me is a PROPERLY FUNDED SCHOOL SYSTEM, and the teachers pitching in LESS.

    Am I yelling? I feel like I’m yelling. I might feel a bit strongly about this. Ahem.

  43. Holy Carp*

    As a recently retired teacher, I know full well the hypocrisy of the city/state/nation expecting a quality education for their children but also expecting teachers to sacrifice decent pay, affordable health care, personal safety, dignity, and their own money “for the children’s sake”.

    How many other occupations expect employees to buy their own supplies to the tune of several thousand dollars? School districts used to supply this stuff without fail. Many districts send home supply lists with students, expecting parents to foot the bill, and parents aren’t happy either. Now states are siphoning public school funds to pour into unregulated charter schools which consistently have no fiscal reckoning processes. In our state, the brother of one of our senators opened and quickly closed a charter school on the state’s dime. Will anyone call him in to account for those funds?

    I recommend the new teacher hit up her principal for as much as she can get, then talk to other teachers at her school to see what they do. I used to teach in a very poor urban district and I used Donors Choose successfully for necessary specialized equipment for which we had no budget. DON’T spend out of pocket.

    1. Miss Fisher*

      I used to work at a charter school. The whole thing is pretty shady. They are for profit, set up by a company who uses the school to make money by renting the building to the school, etc. The money comes from the students, as you said, siphoning their allotted pub funds to the charter school. Because they are trying to make money, they cut costs by overcrowding classrooms and cutting the art programs etc. And one of our main issues was because they wanted as many kids as they could get, they were admitting kids who were kicked out of their other schools.

      1. Clisby*

        That’s going to depend on state laws. In my state (SC) charter schools are required by law to be non-profit.

    2. Loves Libraries*

      I think a lot of these expectations that teachers pay for their classroom supplies is gendered. When I was working at schools the female teachers bought much more than the male teachers.

  44. Cathie Fonz*

    Dare I bring politics into this? Yeah, I dare — for the last 40 years, US teachers have been put down, criticized, vilified, called moneygrubbers, you name it, by people who seemed to think that teachers unions were the greatest evil in the United States and the tax dollars spent on education were the greatest rip-off ever experienced by taxpayers.
    I know I exaggerate, but not by much…
    So I guess this critique has now been internalized by the teachers themselves, to the point that there are principals who think teachers will “look better to the community” if they use their supposedly-outrageously high salaries to buy their own school supplies. How ridiculous.
    My opinion, of course, doesn’t help this particular teacher in dealing with this particular situation. But I do think it might be worthwhile for her to realize that the principal’s attitude is not aimed at her personally but rather it reflects a long-term problem in the way teachers are now regarded. Its going to be a labour of years to challenge or change this attitude.

    1. pleaset*

      Oh come on, the principal knows teachers don’t make that much. The way I see it, he should have suggested the OP get a “side gig” to pay for supplies.

      1. Impy*

        Whereas the way I see it, if the principal is that poor at budgeting, *they* should get a side gig to pay for the supplies.

    2. On a pale mouse*

      I’m sure there’s waste in the public school system (in fact it’s practically inevitable whenever there’s a lot of tax money involved) but I don’t think much of it is from paying teacher salaries. Teachers don’t get paid enough.

  45. The Librarian (not the type from TNT)*

    I never understood this. It would be like telling a city bus driver that they were responsible for paying for the bus’s fuel out of their own pocket.

    The lack of respect for teachers makes me sad.

    1. pleaset*

      With the way cities are cutting transit, and the calls to privatize everything, this would not surprise me if it happened.

  46. Autumnheart*

    I can’t imagine ANY other job where my hypothetical boss would think it appropriate to expect me to blow three grand on work-related materials. That would be like my job expecting me to buy a top-of-the-line MacBook so I could do my job and make money for them.

    No. If the principal wants $3K/teacher to augment the school experience for the students, then she should do what everyone else does and contact her city council and state legislature. The principal exists to make sure YOU have the tools you need. That’s HER job. Not yours.

  47. Forrest Rhodes*

    I am mad enough to spit nails at this principal. What kind of deranged, over-the-edge reasoning makes it (intentionally not using ‘they”) think that it has the right “go over OP’s budget” where it is “quite sure it can find the money”?
    What the actual … what?!?
    My gob is not smacked, it’s ground to dust in the earth!
    I’d be tempted to say, “Sure, okay—and while you’re going over mine, I’ll be going through YOUR personal finances. I just know I can find what we need there.”
    For pretty much my entire life I’ve been on the lower end of the financial scale. Yeah, my kids’ schools shouldn’t have to ask for donations but that’s reality, and I’ve happily done what I can in the way of whiteboard markers, a ream or two of printer paper, art supplies, etc. But never ever has anyone had the gall to suggest they go through my finances … a sure way to result in tipped-over furniture at the very least.
    Sorry about the ranting, but this just … really ticks me off.

  48. Long Time Lurker*

    My daughter’s urban elementary school had no supplies lists for students, but rather a special fund that parents could contribute to and provide classroom supplies for everyone. The focus was on simple things — no special fancy notebooks, but basic supplies that everyone could use like paper, pencils, and crayons. In the younger grades, parents were also asked to donate for the snack cabinet. Many families, including mine, have quite a bit to the fund (because honestly it was way easier than trying to find a certain kind of marker or notebook) and each teacher got $500 or more a year to spend on extra classroom supplies and to make sure each student had the same of everything. Our school made a big point that teachers were not supposed to spend their own money on supplies, and we would rather kids have simple things than demand that of teachers. The overall vibe of the school encouraged parents with more money to donate to the fund, because they knew the supplies were going to be well used and practical. But it was driven by the principal, and her expectations. Not every classroom needs a Pinterest worthy reading area. Kids need books, paper, pencils. And our school is one of the best urban schools in the state.

    1. Long Time Lurker*

      The school also had a volunteer day to help with setting up and organizing classrooms, cleaning, and painting. Dozens of parents would participate, some with real skills (I saw a man who built two tables from scrap wood with his own tools) but the focus was that it was all of us that made the school successful, not just the teachers. I really dislike this idea that it’s all on the teachers to make a welcoming and beautiful classroom.

  49. Elbe*

    This is inappropriate to the point where I think it should be called out – both to the principal herself and potentially her boss. Expecting to have access to an employees personal finances is an incredible crossing of boundaries that should be completely unacceptable in a professional setting.

    Teachers frequently buy some supplies on their own, but it sounds like the LW is being asked to foot the bill for ALL of the basic supplies. Why did the principal even ask for a list if she was just going to refuse all of it?

  50. emilym1*

    I find it funny that schools have money for artificial turf fields, trainers, indoor pools, fiend trips but no money for teachers’s to buy school supplies.

    1. Eleanor Konik*

      This sort of thing doesn’t generally happen in k-12 schools with artificial turf fields, trainers, and indoor pools.

      1. Justme, The OG*

        Yes, it does. Because alumni will donate to the athletic fund in order to get the turf and pool. But not to the general fund so that kids have supplies.

        1. Eleanor Konik*

          So, to be fair, I have never even heard of a public school with trainers and indoor pools and I currently live in one of the wealthier school districts in the USA. I’m not saying it NEVER happens, I’m saying that I doubt it’s so common as to be a widespread problem, if only because the parents whose kids go to “wealthy” schools like this tend to be good at political advocacy and the PTA usually steps up.

          But maybe things are different out west.

          1. voyager1*

            Have you heard of the state of Texas? Or Alabama? Or anywhere football is big?

            There are high schools with better athletic resources then some NCAA Div 3 Colleges.

            1. Justme, The OG*

              That’s what I was going to respond but you got here before me. Not West enough, South enough. Football is king down here. My local school district DESPERATELY needs to split and get a second high school (like it needed to happen a decade ago) but they won’t because football. And we’re not even that good.

          2. nonegiven*

            Oh, yes, I have 2 nieces and a nephew that had an indoor pool, under the cafeteria floor.

          3. Oxford Comma*

            We didn’t have trainers, but my elementary, middle, and high schools all had indoor pools and a robust sports program in the last two. And we weren’t even in the South where football is huge.

        2. President Porpoise*

          Maybe not that stuff, but my school district growing up had smartboards, lots of computer labs and mobile laptop centers, etc., because alumni were always donating money and specifying that it be allocated to technology. Meanwhile, we ere using 40 year old textbooks in some classes, and my freshman geography class still had the USSR on the map (in 2002) because the last time they bought those maps was 1987.

          1. President Porpoise*

            Actually, thinking of it, we did have a trainer, and had had an indoor pool at one point but they covered it up to make a separate gym. Plenty of field trips too. Very wealthy area.

          2. Chinookwind*

            “Meanwhile, we ere using 40 year old textbooks in some classes, and my freshman geography class still had the USSR on the map (in 2002) because the last time they bought those maps was 1987.”

            The only time I ever saw new textbooks in a class was after a large fire. Every student and teacher marvelled at being the first person to put a name in the “signed out to” box and understood how unusual and precious that is.

            Now, I normally don’t recommend playing with matches on a windy day near a freshly tarred roof, but there were one or two perks (that in no way made up for 2 years of teaching in portables spread out over 3 different locations).

          3. Turtle Candle*

            Yeah, this is how a lot of this weirdness happens, IME. Often with athletics, but not always–sometimes technology, as you say, or once in a while, art. And all those things are valuable (and art especially is extremely underfunded), but it’s a bit “let them eat cake” to insist on them when the school budget doesn’t include dry erase markers and gradebooks and extra notebooks for the kids who can’t afford them.

        3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          It’s also because they charge for football entrance fees. Which then goes to pay for a lot of this, along with the Boosters who are selling team-shirts and snacks.

          You can rake in thousands if you have a full set of bleachers each Friday’ night. Five bucks a head, a couple hundred people packed into them, that’s $1000 right there. Then they sell a lot of concessions and that goes into the fund too. It funds itself usually and then yeah, of course the donations from the kids with parents who can afford it or if they grow up and donate.

          They also have the kids out there washing cars and selling cars sometimes [we held signs for local dealerships] for the athletic fund. We also raised money for all our clubs though if we wanted them, we worked for them since most of our parents couldn’t afford much in terms of dues.

    2. We paid for field trips*

      I was in elementary decades ago but even then, parents were expected to pay for field trips.

      The teacher would send out a letter like “Our class will be visiting the zoo on such and such date. If you would like your child to attend, it’s $X. If you would like to be a chaperone and also attend, it’s $Y (cost of you and the child).” I do not recall any field trip where my parents didn’t have to pay for it.

      1. Clisby*

        At the grade 1-8 school my kids attended, parents were expected to pay for field trips, but the PTO also dedicated money to subsidize the cost for kids eligible for free/reduced lunch (I think full cost for anyone who qualified for free lunch and half for anyone who qualified for reduced lunch.) I was on the PTO board for a couple of years, and this was one of our top spending priorities.

    3. Holy Carp*

      Field trips? Not in many years, unless it came from fundraisers. And turf, pool, trainers? Who the h*ll has that at their school? Not in a school where teachers buy the supplies.

  51. Thomas*

    Why did the principal ask for the supply list, only to say that some or all of it wasn’t going to be paid for by the school? The principal should say up-front what the budget and/or range of acceptable items is when requesting that list in the first place!

  52. Accountant*

    This is awful and teachers should get the funding needed to supply classrooms.
    I have contributed to a kick starter like platform for teachers projects. I cannot remember the name of the platform, but maybe you could do that for at least part of the supplies.
    I also get supplies for the classroom on my children’s supply list, this is for basic things like kleenex, cleaning wipes, whiteboard markers. I don’t know if your school would allow you to do any of this, since they think you should pay out of your pocket. But as a parent of 3, I never felt that my children’s teachers should provide supplies out of their pocket and only felt grateful that they had great teachers!

    1. Clisby*

      Seconded. At least ASK the parents to provide some of these things. If it’s a public school, you can’t make them, and obviously some parents just can’t afford it. But a lot of us can. I always buy twice the amount they ask for, because I figure somebody can use the extra. (I’m not talking big money here – If I bought supplies just for my high-school son, it would be at most $50. I can swing $100.)

  53. Dr. Doll*

    Are other teachers actually complying with this? Sounds like it may be time for a mutiny.

    1. MatKnifeNinja*

      My head went boom all over my mobile phone.

      This principal wants to look good for district for 1) saving money on the backs of the teachers, and 2) the parents love the school because the reduce school supply list.

      I’d share my family budget when bish forks over hers. I’m sure their is money in HER budget to by paper and pencils. Eff that nlise.

  54. SheLooksFamiliar*

    I’m truly heartsick over this letter, and I know the OP isn’t the only teacher hearing this kind of blather. Many of my dearest friends are teachers, and they’ve told me the same thing.

    I’m child-free but I value a well-funded education system, if for no other reason because I’m on the receiving end of its students. We all are. It’s to our collective benefit to lobby for well-funded and supplied schools, with teachers who can educate students instead of scrimping to procure the most essential supplies. Those students truly are our future, for crying out loud!

    1. AndersonDarling*

      I’m child free too, and I would be happy to donate items to my schools if I knew what and how. I think there are tons of businesses that would do the same.
      I get the idea that it looks bad that the schools are asking for basic things like chairs, rugs, and pencil holders, BUT I also grasp reality and and don’t want teachers to have to buy this stuff. If I had a giant slightly used rug, I’d be happy to have it cleaned and donate it for a classroom’s reading area, and I’d be delighted to pick up an extra box of tissues each time I go to the grocery store. It would be great if there were donation lists readily available for the community to view and get in touch with the teacher that need the supplies. Of course, that makes more work and time commitments for teachers.

  55. MMB*

    Wow. Just….wow. I’m so floored I can’t even think straight. It’s rare that I’m actually personally enraged by a simple online post, but this did it. Yep. Unbelievable.

    Also, I agree with some of the other posters that something sounds VERY hinky here if all of the teachers are spending upwards of $3,000 a year. Even in a very small elementary school (K-6) with only say 14 teachers that’s $42,000/year! Yes that’s a big chunk of money for a school but ……….

  56. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    I know my Irish friend is asked for around €300 per child per year for supplies – I think it isn’t strictly compulsory but might as well be.

    Here in the UK we’ve been asked to set up a regular bank transfer to top up what the school needs. Apparently a large proportion of the school’s families do. I was very resistant (this is a state ie publicly funded school after all) but it’s the children who suffer so opting out doesn’t send a message to the powers that be.

    Most importantly, I supply to my children’s (elementary) teachers the things neither school nor teacher should have to provide for the class, but frequently do, such as spare (new) underwear, hair ties, etc. Through the PTA we have also been able to supply spare PE kit for the class teacher to keep discreetly for whoever needs it.

    I’m sure you *can* teach a class with just a handful of board markers, plain paper and pencils. But I’m equally sure that children learn better when they’re better resourced, and that goes at least double for children with additional needs.

    1. OP*

      I am doing a bit of digging (I know someone at the district office) and it seems like it was a case of domininant school culture over actual written policy, so we shall see.

  57. LJackson*

    It is inappropriate and possibly illegal for your boss to suggest/tell you how to spend your paycheck. I would push back on this. Teaching is a difficult job and NOT community service. No other profession is expected to pay out of pocket for other people’s children.

  58. Mellow*

    Came here to note Alison’s response is spot on and to wish you luck, LW.

    Bless you for wanting to be a teacher in the first place. This nation should be putting teachers as a priority; that we don’t is a testament to our collective belief that because teaching is predominantly a woman’s line of work, it shouldn’t be taken seriously viz. pay and benefits. What’s really shocking is the rather large swath of Americans that believes teachers get summers off, work only 8 hours a day, and amount to nothing but over-priced babysitters. Makes me want to scream non-stop.

    In fact, I wish presidential candidates would make teacher compensation part of their campaign, given the successful strikes of teachers in several states recently.

    Just don’t get me started on taxpayer-thieving charter schools…

    1. Edianter*

      When I was a teacher, I worked at a charter school, and I made $24,000 per year as my salary (this was in 2012-2014), about a THIRD less than the regular starting rate in my school district. I also commented above that I spent about $1500-2000 per year out of my own pocket for my classroom, same as (or more than) any other teacher.

      Charter schools exist to serve kids who aren’t well served by the one-size-fits-all approach of public schools, and are even more underfunded (unless they get private donors) than regular public schools are.

      1. Eleanor Konik*

        Teachers in charter schools aren’t paid well and are often not subject to the same licensing requirements.

        That doesn’t mean that many charter school OWNERS aren’t making ridiculous amounts of money.

        Some a good and worthwhile. But especially with the newer ones, a fair number of charter schools are explicitly designed, as far as I can tell, to suck money from the government for the benefit of the already-wealthy.

      2. RoadsLady*

        I used to work at a charter school. They’re very popular in my area and subject to an awful pedestal. Mine actually turned toxic.

      3. Mellow*

        >one-size-fits-all approach of public schools

        Respectfully, I’d argue that public schools aren’t “one size fits all.”

        Public schools tend to have greater resources than private and charter schools, and, as such, can – and exist to – meet a larger variety of needs.

        Additionally, unlike public schools, charter schools don’t have to take everyone, and don’t have to produce a shred of data to show how their (public) funds are spent; ostensibly, charter schools are able to fashion whichever size it wants while yanking funds away from public schools, all without a lick of accountability.

        1. Eleanor Konik*

          I SUSPECT that the original commenter here is referring to the “specialty” schools that kids get sent to once they are flagged as having issues that are too much for even the in-house public school specialty school options (I used to work at an “alternative education” center that was a public school; we had one student who was unable to be successful even there). They’re called “non-pub” schools where I’m from as opposed to “charter schools” and tend to have a very very low student-to-teacher ratio and are absolutely necessary.

        2. Clisby*

          I’m not sure what you mean by “charter schools don’t have to take everyone.” In my state, charter school acceptance is strictly by lottery. I mean, it’s true they don’t have to take “everyone”, in that they only have to take the ones picked in the lottery – but it’s not like they can require entrance tests, or certain grades, for admissions.

  59. Heidi*

    When I was in school, we got a list of supplies at the start of the year and we had to go shopping for them. Perhaps that’s what the principal means by saying it looks better to the community – that the cost of supplies isn’t placed so much on the parents? Otherwise, it’s totally backwards. It looks terrible that teachers have to pay for the equipment they need to do their own jobs. That’s like saying I need to bring my own jackhammer if I want to get a job repairing the roads. For your principal, you could say something like, “I appreciate the thought, but I want to keep my budget between me and my husband.” I mean, really, if she saw you were putting aside money for a trip, would she expect you to give up your vacation? And what if you didn’t? Would she fire you for not spending your vacation money on school supplies? No part of this is reasonable.

    1. wittyrepartee*

      You know, I would tell my spouse to throw me under the bus and tell the principle that I’m such a very private person and very very against the idea of sharing our financial information.

  60. Llellayena*

    Teachers supplying some of their own classroom supplies is depressingly normal, HOWEVER that should be supplies that go beyond the standard budget (which means there should BE a budget) for the classroom. My mom would buy extra books for her library, posters and similar items since the budget only covered the basic classroom supplies (paper, pencils, chalk and similar learning based consumables). Non-leaning based consumables like tissues she asked the parents to supply (think how many tissues a classroom of 25 goes through during cold season!). This is all assuming that there is a base budget for each classroom for supplies.

    Also, if the school has a budget (ie “discretionary funds”) and they don’t use it, that tells the school board that the school DOESN’T NEED THAT MUCH MONEY NEXT YEAR, which means the budget shrinks making it even harder to supply the classrooms. Ideally, you WANT to spend the full budget so that the following year you can say “we used the whole budget and we still needed to purchase more supplies than we could afford. Let’s increase the budget for next year so we can actually buy important classroom items (like TEXTBOOKS!).”

  61. WhyOwhy*

    The only reason I can afford to be a teacher is because my husband is an executive, and my salary isn’t necessary, and we have extra money to spend on supplies. I do not know how anyone who isn’t supported by a partner can even afford to be a teacher.

    1. Edianter*

      You literally can’t. I was a teacher, and worked a second almost full-time job (5-9pm weeknights, 8-8 weekends) in order to SURVIVE.

      It’s a HUGE part of why I left the field.

      1. WhyOwhy*

        In my small school I know EIGHT teachers who work retail, wait tables or bartend, just to afford their “real” job.

      2. Librarianne*

        Yes, lots of my teachers were pizza delivery drivers or worked at the local theme park during the summers. They also coached school sports teams and other extracurriculars not because they particularly wanted to, but because it provided a small stipend.

    2. Eleanor Konik*

      It varies wildly by state and district.

      I’m a third year teacher and I make about $60k a year, which is definitely a living wage in my area (I used to live on half that). I know a fair number of teachers in my area who manage to support a family of 4-5 on their teaching salary (i.e. 3 kids and a wife who doesn’t work). They scrimp, sure, but… they manage it and it’s not like they’re stuffing themselves into a 1-bedroom apartment; they have houses and cars and phones and all.

      But urban Maryland has some of the best teacher pay in the country.

      1. OP*

        My area starts at $50K the first year, which isn’t all that bad for the area as far as wages go. Not rich, but fairly respectable. I’m technically a year 10 (worked in non-profit for some years between) so I get more.

        1. Eleanor Konik*

          Yeah, I mean, 50-60k is definitely NOT commensurate with the level of education or stress or hours involved in teaching, but a lot of the really horrifying stories (I know people who lived in moldy basements in Chicago because it was all they could afford as teachers working 2 jobs) are very location-specific. Even the “by state” listings don’t tell the whole story because urban vs. suburban vs. rural pay is so different.

      2. Clisby*

        It’s not solely a matter of teacher pay – it’s also the cost of living in the area. Years ago, my husband’s nephew married a young woman who was about to qualify as a teacher (this is in Appalachian southeastern Ohio.) I said something like, “Well, teaching doesn’t pay much, but it sounds like Ohio gives pretty good benefits.” My husband looked at me like I had grown a second head, and said, “Teaching is one of the best-paying jobs you can get here.” And then I thought about how, at that time, you could easily buy a perfectly decent 3 BR/1 BA house for $50,000 or less in that county.

        1. PolarBearFlavour*

          Teacher salaries UK:

          “As a newly qualified teacher, you’ll begin on a salary of at least £23,720, or £29,664 in inner London. As you rise up the pay ranges, you could earn as much as £118,490 as a headteacher, in inner London.”

          The salaries go up by increments every year but it still seems like teachers in the USA earn a LOT more. Is the cost of living really high in the USA or something? In the UK, the median salary is something like 22k, minimum wage is £8.21 an hour. And houses, petrol, travel, utilities, cost of living etc aren’t seen as cheap here.

          1. wittyrepartee*

            Huh- so beginning teachers are making around 28,776.25 to 35,988.36 USD. Is that range before or after tax? Additionally, how much debt can a teacher expect to be paying off when they graduate? Most teachers are probably paying about $250 a month here. Also- what are teachers’ hours like, and are there any benefits that they get that help defray costs? If nothing else, your healthcare is a lot less expensive than ours.

            I had a salary in NYC that was around $35K as a lab tech, and it was… pretty tight. Like- no savings tight. Maybe your teachers are struggling just like I was?

            1. PolarBearFlavour*

              Public sector salaries here do seem lower than the USA, Canada, Australia.

              But we do get increments so providing you meet your objectives you go up the pay band. London is more expensive so you get paid more there.

              Salaries are always listed before tax. I’m a student teacher at the moment (post grad) but teachers at my school are generally in school 8am-5pm and taking home marking in the evenings sometimes. But they take their full break in the classroom. I don’t know of any teacher with a second job.

              I wonder if teachers salaries in the USA are pro rated to take holidays into account? So here, the salary is divided into 12 so you get paid the same every month.

              Student loans are different here, they are only paid back once you earn over £25k. This has gone up from £22k, years ago it was £15k. You pay a percentage of your income. So if you earn £25,001 you pay something like £9 per month. This goes up the more you earn. After 30 years, student loans are wiped out! If you don’t earn, you never pay it back.

              For the post grad route, there are various bursaries for students and there are schemes where you are paid for the duration of your studies to train which is mainly school based rather than spending time at university with weeks of placements in schools. Going to university for the Post Graduate Certificate in Education is around £9k which most people get as a student loan.

              Oh and pensions -teachers pay at least 7% into pensions.

              The teacher’s unions here are also pretty good.

  62. Observer*

    What will happen if you simply refuse to buy the supplies? If you say “I’m not willing or able to pay for the privilege of being employed. I also am not willing to forgo my privacy to satisfy people that I am worthy of not being forced to pay for my job.”

    I would be tempted to point out that teachers do not get paid CLOSE to a reasonable salary for the level of education they are supposed to have. Don’t get me started on any parent who thinks that teachers should be the ones “pitching in” to cover the cost of schooling.

  63. Observer*

    On a totally separate note, there are some resources for getting low cost school supplies, that both teachers and schools can access.

    Please don’t jump down my throat with “why should teachers have to do this” or “This suggestion proves that you REALLY think it’s ok to require teachers to pay, even though you said something above.”

    That’s not the case. What is the case is that I”m a pragmatist and I can’t force the OP’s principal or the principal / board of any other school to shoulder their responsibility. So, I’m trying to help minimize the negative fall out.

    Link in the response.

    1. OP*

      Oh, I totally get what you’re saying. Teacher grantwriting has been around for decades, so finding extra money for extra things is definitely a thing. My issue is when the basics become the extras.

      I’m not entirely opposed to gathering other resources as it is a practical solution to a lousy situation, and in some ways help generate awareness.

      I’m not exactly cutesy, so I’ll get the basics I can get and call it a year.

  64. Kate Daniels*

    That’s so ridiculous that she asked you to bring in your household budget! WTF. No, no, NO. I was just looking for info to see if my city is holding some sort of school supply drive for students or teachers in need, but was having trouble finding something. I really wish more schools would coordinate with other community entities like the public library to hold donation drives where people in the community can donate supplies!

  65. WhyOwhy*

    I go to Walmart multiple times a year and spend my own money to buy supplies that my kids need. No other profession is asked to do this. My friends who are corporate trainers tell me they don’t even buy their own pens or post-it notes.

    1. Justme, The OG*

      I work in higher ed with former elementary and high school teachers. When they started, the idea that I could buy them the pens and post-its that they wanted to use was foreign to them. You’re using the pens for work, then work will buy the pens. We have more than enough money.

  66. AnotherCorporateStooge*

    what in the actual duck. I totally agree with Allison — there is no reason you, as an educator, should be contributing that much, or really any at all, towards your supplies. I really want to know what school or what county this happened — this is absolutely unacceptable.

  67. LiveAndLetDie*

    Wow, absolutely the F not, LW! Your boss is massively breaching the lines of propriety by even ASKING to see your personal budget, that is nobody’s business but you (and I guess any members of your household who share the budgeting tasks with you). Many states have teachers’ unions, are you a member of one? Can you take this there?

  68. Lumen*

    At one point when my dad was teaching high school, he was saving pencils that came with exam books to use throughout the year because his school would not buy pencils.

    At another point, my mother set up a Donors Choose campaign to buy enough copies of The Giver for her students to each be able to read a copy. It was $125 and the school could not or would not pay for it. (They had a few copies in the school library, but they were falling apart. And molding.

    This whole system is destructive to teachers, families, and especially students. Down the line, it’s destructive to the entire country.

  69. Datalyst*

    My advice is to ask around and see if your network knows of any retiring teachers who would be happy to pass along supplies! I had it easy teaching high school math– the science teachers were hit the worst trying to fund experiments.

  70. Justme, The OG*

    My kiddo is in school, just starting fifth grade. In what universe does it “look better” when teachers pay multiple thousands of dollars to furnish their classrooms? And teacher pay in my area is above average.

    1. Eleanor Konik*

      The universe where no one tells the parents this is happening and the parents think everything is fine AND that their taxes can stay low. :P

  71. E*

    OP, are there any locally owned small businesses in your area that might be willing to donate either funds or directly buy needed items for your school? Or even if you approach the local PTA about a fundraiser because it’s so far from normal or rational to expect a teacher to take her salary (which pays her bills) to buy classroom items.

    1. Clisby*

      Unfortunately, it’s completely normal – although it shouldn’t be – to have teachers pay for classroom items. The truly abnormal part about this post is the $3K expectation.

  72. Little Tin Goddess*

    My hubs has been teaching for close to 20 years. Whatever you do buy out of your own pocket is tax deductible. Keep your receipts. We routinely spend close to $1000 a year. Get kids books at library book sales or yard sales, etc.

    You can also set up a fundraiser through Ive seen classrooms funded for requested things in a matter of hours.

    But your principal was wayyyyyyy out of line.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I saw that with the tax cuts of 2018, you can’t actually deduct classroom purchases now. If they still haven’t cut it, they’re gunning for it in the next revision.

      1. Clisby*

        Check state laws, though. In SC, teachers can get an up to $275 state income tax credit (not just a deduction) for school supplies. Not $3K, though.

  73. Ann Nonymous*

    At our Back to School Nights which are held early in the year, there are boards for each teacher out in the courtyard with slips of paper attached with an item and its price on it, i.e. Box of Markers $5; Projector $200; Binders $20, and parents pull off the slips and go to the cashier to pay for those items. It is in no way obligatory for parents to do this. They can purchase things for their own kid(s) teachers or for any other teacher; a great many of the requested items are indeed paid for that evening.

  74. history geek*

    A more helpful in the moment suggestion – and one I used as a Montessori teacher is talk to one of the office supply stores near you – local indpendent is best but Staples, Office Max or Office Depot might work. See if they can donate supplies to your class room but sponsoring your classroom. Many of these stores used to have programs like this – that often the store would get local business to also get in one because well it makes them look good.

    1. Holy Carp*

      Not seeing too much of that around here. Our office supply stores would lose a lot of business if they gave stuff away to every classroom teacher in the area.

  75. sam*

    I don’t necessarily want to encourage this system, because…eeesh, we pay teachers crap wages and then this?

    But I will note that when I was in high school (about 100 years ag0), I worked at a store that sold education…adjacent stuff (think “the nature company”, but…not quite). Teachers ALWAYS got a 20% discount on everything, AND if they were buying stuff for the classroom (there was some sort of form) New York allowed us to not charge sales tax.

    So if you do ultimately need to buy some stuff for your classroom, you may want to look into suppliers who offer similar programs.

    (on a similar note, if several teachers need to order supplies, see if ordering in bulk will help you get any additional discounts or allow you to create some sort of “buying club” that lets you get wholesale prices).

  76. Christmas*

    What kind of school is this? I am a Title I public school teacher. In our district, teachers are given a $200 debit card and a box of copy paper to start us off on supplies, then the rest is on us for the remainder of the year. It’s better than nothing, I guess. At least we don’t have to dump buckets of money into a community pot! Certainly not thousands per teacher. What the OP is describing doesn’t sound like anything I’ve ever heard of! RUN!

    1. Christmas*

      Crap, I misread part of the letter (on my phone – sorry!) but I still agree that the amount she suggested was ludicrous, and that she stepped over the line by trying to get into your personal budged with you.

  77. Red*

    Flint Southwestern High School. New art teacher making $30,000 before taxes arrives to art classroom. Desks, chairs, and a Smart board. Nothing else. No paper, pencils, paints, rulers, scissors, textbooks, curriculum, air conditioning, clean water, toilet paper in the bathrooms…. The kids and teachers of this school are treated like animals that nobody cares about; the President would call this a rat infested hell-hole. And now the teacher has to do what to make the classroom work?

    You are not alone,

  78. What’s My Username This Time?*

    To have a principal tell a teacher to SUBMIT HER AND HER HUSBAND’S HOUSEHOLD BUDGET so the principal can tell her how to find three grand for things which ought to be provided to her to do her job …. That’s not just wrong and unethical. That’s your Candidate #1 for AAM’s Worst Boss of 2019.

    OP, tell the school board. Tell your teachers union reps. Tell your local newspaper’s education reporter (assuming your town still has some sort of newspaper or local news website, but that’s another sad susubject). Blow those whistles. Blow them long and hard.

    1. OP*

      To be generous, the offer seemed to come off as more of a helpful gesture. Like “Hey, I’m pretty good with a budget so I could maybe help you see where to save for the vacation or Little Sarah’s karate lessons”. Except it was just clueless, because this is stuff to do my job. So, to be clear, it wasn’t so much a hard official request, but an incredibly clueless offer.

      1. fposte*

        And a revealing one about how entrenched the assumption of personal funding is. Sheesh.

      2. Impy*

        Can you ask to see her budget? After all your boss presumably earns more than you. Why can’t *she* find $3k to find your classroom supplies?

      3. mrs__peel*

        Regardless of whether it was an official demand or whether it was well-meaning, it’s SO beyond the pale that I think it would be totally appropriate to go over her head and inform whoever *she* reports to that this is going on. Even as a suggestion, it was completely unprofessional.

        (And I doubt you’re the first person she’s suggested this to…)

  79. StaceyIzMe*

    Teachers from pre-k through high school do buy quite a few things for their classroom, but it’s really out of hand. Some teachers are good at networking to get supplies. Some are good at getting sponsors and/ or parents. Some just throw money at it and do the best they can. But NO, she shouldn’t be crossing this boundary. Good for you for saying “no”! “It looks better”? Seriously? No, it’s not a good look when parents and administrators expect teachers to spin straw into gold. Supplies don’t magically appear and I’m glad that there are some teachers who will push back and establish good boundaries. I hope this is the only bobble, but if this is the opening act in Schoolsville for 2019, maybe banding together and pushing back collectively would help.

  80. JSPA*

    the suckiness of the principal should be seen in light of the terrible dysfunction of the hugely dysfunctional educational funding process in most states.

    There are websites that exist just to get supplies to teachers. Some requests are for admitted “extras”; others are shockingly sad requests for the minimum resources needed to do the job.

    I go back and forth, having gotten a bit jaundiced RE the “donors choose” website when some of the “asks” seemed to be for a fancy electronic device for the teacher, or for some other device whose resale value struck me as much more notable than the item’s likely use in the classroom. And because an offer of a “used one of same” rather than the money to buy a new one was sometimes turned down.

    That said, “donors choose dot org” does exist. It’s sad how many requests are for basic supplies–teachers are begging on the internet for pencils and crayons and enough books for each student to have one, or two students to share a book, rather than the teacher reading the relevant sections to the class–while others in more upscale areas are asking for incredibly fancy stuff to add to their already palatial classrooms. It makes me mad every time I browse from neighborhood to neighborhood in my own city. But it’s there, and you can use it.

    1. MsChanandlerBong*

      The reason your request to furnish a used one was turned down is because that’s the way Donors Choose works. It wasn’t the teacher turning you down. Donors Choose uses a small network of suppliers, and their staff/volunteers review every request, determine the cost of fulfilling it, and then order the item and have it sent to the teacher. The teacher never gets any money in hand; thus, Donors Choose has to be able to take the donated funds and order from its list of approved suppliers. The system would not work if people from all over the world could send used items; they would need more employees/volunteers to open the packages, they’d need to verify that the items worked, and they would probably need a bigger office to do all this processing.

  81. Memyselfandi*

    For all the teachers out there – I am very willing to either pay taxes or pay more for the things I consume because the workers who provide them are making a living wage. My mother taught sixth grade for years, retiring in the mid-1980’s. She did not purchase classroom supplies for her students. She had a family of eight children, but that is beside the point. It was not her responsibility whether she had the means or not. Had she no children and consequently the means, would that have meant that the students assigned to her classroom got more resources simply because the teacher had more personal money to spend? Talk about institutionalizing disparities!

  82. PretzelGirl*

    I am not a teacher, but my sister is. Her and I make about the same salary. I don’t have an extra $3k laying around, nor does she. Trust me, we have been there done, about our budget! If we had extra $3k, we would have a better house and cars. I would have to stifle my laughter and look of horror if my boss suggested this!

  83. Rosaline Montague*

    Your principal is completely out of line. My husband is and mom was a principal and NO WAY would they cross such an egregious line with an employee.

    That aside, I wish I had better advice for action steps to take beyond seeking PTA support or starting a gofundme (check your district policies on fundraising first, though). And if this really is how this school or district operate (and not just one out of touch administrator) consider leaving. Seriously.

  84. Fiddlesticks*

    This letter makes me absolutely infuriated and sick. I have no adequate words, so I’ll borrow some from the old bumper sticker: “It will be a great day when our schools are funded and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.”

    1. Dasein9*

      We live in a country that hates children. It hates plenty of other people too, but yeah, we don’t pay to educate ’em, we don’t change laws to keep ’em from getting shot, and we’ve set up a pipeline to send them from school to prison more efficiently.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      There are kids in cages right now.

      Food stamps are being gutted and reduced because “if you can’t feed ’em, don’t breed ’em” mentality. Yet we also don’t educate them about anything, let alone birth control, NEVAAAAAAAAAA birth control, abstain or GTFO. /shiver.

      Yeah. We don’t treat one another very well and the vulnerable [read young, elderly and disabled] are the easiest ways to take out our hate because it’s not like they can fight back. Sigh.

  85. Archangels girl*

    I’ve only read a few of the comments, but I find it interesting that people think that teachers buy things like crayons and glue and paper. Many of the comments make it clear that as a teacher if I want to have a science program, I have to supply the materials. So for those who ask where does the money go, that is where most of it goes. Even an elementary science program needs copious amounts of things like aluminium foil and exacto knives and hot glue guns and glue sticks Popsicle sticks. These are just the basics for kids to do any design at all. In my sixth grade class, I had to buy things like wire, batteries, wire strippers, conductivity testers, voltmeters, battery harnesses, lightbulbs, lemons. That’s only for my 1 electricity unit. I have four units total if I teach a straight grade and 8 units totally if I teach a split grade, which I often do. Every unit seems to need things like baking soda and vinegar and the list is endless. I have no trouble believing that I spend up to $3,000 a year funding my program. I am in Canada where we have pretty good education funding, but all they ever want to do with it is buy another damned iPad. I’ve never been able to explain how much money it costs in just incidental consumables to run a really good science program. Don’t even get me started on Art LOL

    1. iglwif*

      Oh lord, the iPads.

      When my kiddo was in junior public school / elementary school, there was a big fundraiser to buy Smartboards for the classrooms. Kiddo was in grade 5 and had just started band, but said she couldn’t bring an instrument home to practise because there weren’t enough to go around. So I asked at a meeting why we were raising money for Smartboards when there weren’t enough instruments for kids to take home and practise … and all the other parents looked at me like I had multiple heads.

  86. Duvie*

    This makes me crazy. No one goes into teaching to become rich or just to score those cushy summer vacations. The idea that teachers are supposed to fund books, snacks, art supplies, and all the touches of comfort that make the classroom a place where children want to be is reprehensible. Those children are the future of the country, and should be funded completely so they can grow up to be contributors and not users. Surely to goodness the richest country in the world should be able to free up enough money to properly educate the people who in the future will have the responsibility of funding the federal pension system!

  87. Richard Hershberger*

    Baltimore has a non-profit called Teacher Supply Swap. It is exactly what it sounds like. I don’t know if other places have anything similar, but it is an avenue to explore.

  88. Miss Fisher*

    Not sure if they still do this, but when I was teaching, Reddit Gifts had a sign up where you could sign up to get matched with someone to receive free supplies. You could also sign up to give supplies. It doesn’t always work out as there are more people needing than receiving, but if you can get someone you can get good supplies. Anything is great, but someone was matched with like Bill Gates who gave the teacher $1000 amazon card or something like that.

    Also, wow noticing the shear volume of former teachers is amazing. I lasted 5 yrs before realizing it wasn’t for me and I have multiple co-workers now who are also former teachers. There is a huge burn out rate and some states are having huge shortages on teacher right now. Kentucky is having a hard time, but I would not work there for anything under their current administration.

  89. PhyllisB*

    Where I live, the schools put out a supply list city/county, per grade up to 8th grade. In high school they get their list from their teachers after school starts. On this list will things like four boxes of crayons, 3 boxes of tissue, 2 bottles of Germ-Ex, 10 glue sticks and paper towels as well as things like pencils, notebook paper, ect. I have always bought supplies for my children/grandchildren, but in recent years I have usually sent extras because I know there are some families that can’t afford these things.
    LW, does your district do the same? If so, maybe you won’t have to supply so many things.

    1. Michelle*

      Same here. I always bought as much extra as I could to try to help. Sometimes the teacher would send a letter home saying they are almost out of X and would appreciate if anyone could donate. I would usually buy a couple of whatever that item was and send it in.

  90. Lorlye*

    As a teacher, my district has a budget that we’re can use to order things for our classroom. If we teach a subject that needs extra supplies (like science) there is a different budget. It is set and I can’t get things like books. I am lucky that my district is decently funded though. In fact, our PTO has been generous in the past and we also have a district grant fund that you can apply for. Beyond that we are responsible for anything we want. I still end up spending my own money every year. For those extras, some colleagues have successfully used crowdfunding sites. I believe there are some designed for teachers specifically because this is such an issue. I hate that it is, but with education being funded by property taxes it’s hard to get away from this.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I’ve mentioned this a few times, I’m sure. But I’ve seen a severe uptick in applications for openings from former teachers over the years. It used to be the one off but now it’s quite a substantial amount.

  91. Dasein9*

    This is vile. Valuing budget cuts over education means that either children suffer or teachers do, and most teachers won’t let children suffer on their watch, so they do the suffering for them. We don’t need any more aircraft carriers, but we do need an educated populace if we are to keep our republic.

  92. TitleOneESLTeacher*

    That’s so inappropriate! I’m a teacher and I try really hard to not buy too many items. If the school doesn’t provide it, we find a way to make it work without. I can’t even imagine allowing my principal to have access to my budget, and thankfully he would never ask for it.

  93. Tinybutfierce*

    Stuff like this frustrates me so much. I have several friends who went into teaching, across several states and schools, and without fail, every one of them has to create a GoFundMe every year/semester to help adequately stock their classrooms.

  94. LGRace*

    Half price Books gives discounts to teachers here in Texas. Donors Choose is a great resource for teachers, my daughter is a teacher, and has received numerous medium ticket items like kid chairs for book nook, book shelves and others that way
    See if you can find out who had that classroom last year. If they have left teaching or changed grade levels they might have stuff to sell or give you.
    On back to school night, have a wish list hand, with smaller priced items, but make sure people know its voluntary. At Christmastime, ask or gift card to local teacher supply if asked
    Amazon has some good resources. Check outAmazon Educate, Amazon smileprogram, and Amazon Inspire,

  95. Phillip*

    The really obvious audacity of it coupled with the potential tedium of trying to review another person’s household budget makes me think this is the principal’s go-to “call your bluff” ammo, and they think you’ll just fold and either pare down the list and/or buy it all yourself to avoid the alternative.

  96. Mellow*

    Showing my age: when I was in school, we started after Labor Day and only had to bring our own lunch if we weren’t going to buy it (or could show financial need for free or reduced-cost lunch). No lists whatsoever. Not even backpacks; maybe pencil boxes and, when I was older, Trapper Keepers.

    And that’s my “Hey, you kids get off my lawn!” moment for today…

    1. RandomU...*

      Eh… when I was a kid, same after labor day start, but we always had a list. The trapper keepers were not on the list but highly coveted!

      It was usually like:
      Color crayons (+colored pencils when you were older)
      pencil box

      There was always a bucket of extras that had been reclaimed by the teacher at the end of the year (basically a box would be put out and we were told it was the ‘school supply garbage bin’. That way kids that took stuff home did so and any kid that would have thrown something away tossed it in the ‘garbage’. That stuff just got put in the communal bins the next year as extras. Honestly that box was overflowing with stuff. I think they did it this way so kids who were expected to bring stuff home and reuse it didn’t feel like they had to donate it.

      I do remember some writing paper being provided by the school… that horrible lined stuff that was dingy that was used when learning how to make letters and for cursive practice. And you always knew where some of the parents worked by the logo on the scrap paper… I know my mom reclaimed boxes and boxes of the stuff when the company she worked for changed their logo. It would have otherwise been thrown out.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I started school in 1989 and we had lists but they were pretty generic and the most “outlandish” “share with everyone” item was the box of tissues. We still had school issued tissues but they stunk it up, except for the last few precious tissues that were pleasantly soft and the best ones.

      We started the day after Labor Day, they still do.

      I do get a little antsy reading the lists these days. They have brand requirements. We used to be fine with Rose Art crayons and whatever #2s our parents could grab on sale. Now it’s brand required, earphones and flashdrives, etc. Plus they then get collected a lot of the time and doled out by the teacher as they see fit. Before we just had our own supplies. So we needed notebooks, a binder after we go to 3rd grade with subjects, pens, pencils and markers/crayons etc.

      1. Dahlia*

        Cheap crayons can be an issue because they’re not always accurate colours, which is kind of important for kids when you’re teaching them colours. Also, speaking from experience, a super cheap looseleaf paper/pencils combination can lead to smearing to the point of unreadability.

    3. MissDisplaced*

      I never had to bring any school supplies either except maybe for pencils or pens or things you just wanted, like the Trapper Keeper or unicorn notebooks. Never had backpacks, we carried our brown shopping bag covered books in our arms.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        This is coming dangerously close to “I had to walk up hill, both directions, barefoot in the snow.” territory.

        Backpacks came into existence because they’re good for lugging around those books, why carry them? So that bullies can come running by and smack them out of your arms?

  97. Robin Simons*

    As a former teacher, esp in elementary years, you have no choice. GoFundMe, fundraisers, book banks or places like in Baltimore, 2nd job, selling stuff…. you raise it where you can.

  98. Fran Lo*

    Just be prepared that she will expect to go over your personal budget anyway. Some principals think everybody is 8 years old. I had a principal who felt that “anybody who disagrees with me is insubordinate”! Educators are sometimes in their own little world, especially those who have never worked elsewhere. Spend what you want, then stop. The PTO/PTA may have funds and there are national organizations, too. I get doing it for poor kids, but not middle class suburban kids (if they can afford a smart phone, they can afford supplies).

  99. bananaboat*

    Currently I’m a Learning Support Assitant for SEN kids and yeah this drives me nuts. We’re expected to buy our supplies. It’s so annoying and there is hardly any way to push back. No advice but just to say I comisserate with you

  100. iglwif*

    OK so I came here to say that $3K is a pretty big hit to someone on a first-year teacher’s salary, like over 5% of gross which means way more of net.

    AND THEN I started reading the replies and realized, holy heck, teachers in the US make way less than I thought (I’m in Ontario), so it’s much worse than I at first realized. No wonder the American cousins I visited last month were so surprised my kid goes to public school! (Theirs do not. However, they also have professions that, uh, are an order of magnitude more lucrative than mine.)

    Anyway, OP, I think $3K is unreasonable but the offer to go through your personal budget is banana crackers!! And you should say no to it. Although I confess I love the suggestions people have made about offering to go through the principal’s personal budget too…

    1. Perpal*

      Eh, my husband made about 50K public teaching within a few years; it’s not the worst compensation. It’s close to the median household income (I think that was lower-mid 50s at the time). And the health benefits are good; some places have good retirements some not.
      Now it does vary wildly; he was not in a particularly rich or particularly poor area.
      Through him though, I think the biggest problem is the lack of respect/autonomy? Teachers end up with all the blame and none of the power to change things on a larger level. Like, he’d get kids in his math class that should never have passed the last one, but because there’s so much pressure to pass kids so numbers don’t look bad, no one was willing to stop it. Then he’d be the one who felt ethically obliged to say “no, they don’t know the material, can’t pass” (and yes, he’d put his all into tutoring, etc; but if they just don’t know the material he wouldn’t pass them) and he got in a lot of trouble; only reason he wasn’t fired was because so many teachers were bailing they needed him I think? And then there was scandals in nearby districts where teachers /admin were caught cheating on the standardized tests. Yes the pressure to pass was that bad. Ehhhh.

    2. Quill*

      Where I live, teacher pay was acceptable in the 90’s and hasn’t gone up since but the main thing that’s been keeping people on is the health insurance, i.e. that it exists and is adequate to cover a whole family, including vision, dental, and emergencies.

      The district canceled insurance and all the pension and insurance promises they made in writing to retirees this year, as I’d been assuming they’d do for about a decade. Needless to say, we have a lot of qualified teachers looking for other jobs.

  101. ElemEd*

    I taught Elementary for 10 years. We were given $60 at the end of each year to order supplies for the next year. SIXTY DOLLARS. My first year of teaching, I was an added classroom (they went from 4 rooms to 5). This meant no supplies were ordered for my room the previous June, so I had nothing walking into the room. I ended up charging $2k that first year to set up my classroom and have supplies for students- mostly before I ever received my first paycheck. It was better after the first year, but still spent several hundred each year.

  102. Scout Finch*

    This makes me boil. Teachers literally saved my life.

    When I can, I hand cash to teachers in the Dollar Tree (and other stores). I don’t really care what they do with it, as I know they have spent grocery $ on their classroom in the past.

    We (the collective USA) really need to get our priorities in order. Something’s out of whack.

  103. LoV*

    Can you imagine what this would be like in practice? Like, “Ah, I see here you bought some fruits and vegetables, which can be expensive. Have you considered eating a thin rice gruel or perhaps intermittent fasting?”

  104. Anonymous Educator*

    it looked better to the community if the teachers pitched in more

    What makes me sad is that what the principal says here may actually be true. There is a certain self-sacrifice we expect our teachers to do in America, and that expectation is sick.

    This reminds me of a recent Queer Eye episode in which a music teacher was not only in charge of teaching/organizing all the musical arts stuff at school but solely responsible for fundraising for the arts program at the school, because the budget for arts had been cut.

    The way it was filmed was meant to be inspirational, but A) it’s absolutely a disgrace that a teacher should be responsible for raising all the funds for her department, and B) you can’t tell teachers they need to stop looking out for other people and start looking out for themselves, when they’re stuck with an additional full-time job just to keep the first full-time job funded.

  105. Anonymous Educator*

    This principal is an extreme case, but the attitude is all too common in the U.S. People here want education to be a noble and self-sacrificing profession. They do not want to compensate teachers properly.

    1. amanda_cake*

      And if you don’t buy the things, people think you “don’t love your kids.”

  106. mew*

    It’s not WE who don’t want to fund education. We know exactly who’s taking money out of the federal budget and sticking it in crappy charter schools and siphoning off as much as they can to get rich.

  107. Daisy*

    Firstly, this situation is nuts. I teach in Australia where this is most definitely not the case. I would suggest that the teacher go to the teachers union for advice & ask her coworkers how much they spend. Previous posters are correct that libraries are a good source of inexpensive used books. It seems absurd that stationery supply stores can’t donate stationery to schools if the situation is this dire (I volunteer at a non-profit camp for kids & we get a lot of art supplies donated).

  108. Mike*

    A counter to the “Looks better to the community” is pretty simple. “Ok, pay me a stipend and I’ll use that money to purchase the supplies”.

    Granted, it won’t solve anything but it’ll dispel the illusion of what is going on.

  109. Zapthrottle*

    Oh my crap on a cracker!

    Solving public funding for education, educating parents to be take responsibility for their own kid’s school readiness, dismantling the “if you don’t use it, you lose it” budget planning method at most school districts and even obliterating the educational toilet bowl plunger that is Common Core is easy compared to dealing with this principal.

    Ugh….just thinking of it makes by skin crawl enough that it’s almost loose enough to peel off. Eeeew!

    The OP missed an opportunity to set up the whole discussion correctly by establishing that teacher’s contribution to public education is through teaching, not funding. Oh well….

    She no has a new (and marginally more interesting opportunity to educate her boss on the boundaries of a professional relationship and her (the principal’s) own role in this universe. One that she is NOT in any way, shape or form, a contribution, advisory, or judgement dealer of this teacher or any teacher’s personal finances. None at all. Zip. Zilch. Squat and Diddly Squat. She should also ensure that they are of no two minds that the principal is not in any way, shape or form, a contributor to the teachers finances. If even the tiniest hint of, “well, I pay your salary coz I supervise you” needs to be shut down. Principals administer funds, they may make decisions on portioning them out and even work to secure more of it and THAT should be the main point of the conversation.

    What can YOU do, as principal, to carve out the $$$ to fund the supplies needed to educate the children for the year…either by reviewing budget and making changes based on priorities or coming up with a plan to raise funds because there are too many expenses that cannot be cut. THAT’S her job and tell her YOU are sure SHE can find the $3,000 for the class and your family’s cookie jar ain’t ripe for pilfering.

  110. MissDisplaced*

    It’s one thing to provide little niceties for the kids, but to be EXPECTED to pay thousands is absolutely horrible. I frankly wouldn’t do to that dollar amount for any job, even though I do sometimes purchase small things that make my work easier (Apps and such). And they can Pound Sand if they expect to go over my personal finances to try and find a way to make me pay.

  111. Vax is my disaster bicon*

    This is so messed up—both for the incredibly intrusive way your principal went about it, and for how common these expectations are. So common, in fact, that my credit union offers special loans each fall to help teachers purchase school supplies.

  112. HereKittyKitty*

    It’s a catch-22 for many of these situations. Kids need tools to learn, without those tools they perform bad and teachers get punished or fired for their bad performance. Meanwhile, the district and community says that all you need are good teachers to succeed and the environment has no impact on learning. I remember when a local town fought hard for a bond to be passed to repair an outdated, dangerous and leaky school and the community wrote in raving about how kids should be able to learn just fine in a leaky building if the teacher was good because they didn’t want to pay for a bond. It’s a mess and a shame. I have a friend who crowdsources most of her materials and asks for donations throughout the school year. She worked at a very low-income school and bought a monthly snack supply because many of the kids never had food. And with the crack down on punishing children and parents for lack of lunch money, I imagine teachers will yet again step up to keep kids from starving.

  113. RUKiddingMe*

    “Whoever told you that it is at all ok to ask to see an employee’s personal budget, at all, but particularly in order to tell them how to spend their own money that they earn from their job in order to subsidize the business expenses of their job was wrong. You were misled.”

    You can throw in a “sorry” to soften it if you want. I wouldn’t, but…

  114. Perpal*

    My husband was a public hs teacher; yes he bought some stuff (tissues, organizers, little toy prizes), and while yes it is a bit annoying in principle it wasn’t enough to quibble over. $3K seems really excessive. Unless you are in a truly impoverished district, this actually starts making me wonder about embezzlement. A friend of mine said when she was in grade school, the orchestra teacher was constantly making them (students) fundraise for supplies; he was eventually arrested for embezzlement. Suddenly, they have lots of new instruments and no need to fundraise. This principal trying to squeeze several grand out of you is so inappropriate I wonder what else they are doing.

    1. Memily*

      This happened with band in my home district. Lots of fundraising from the band boosters, but not many whispers from anyone (mostly because instruments are expensive!). This guy had been embezzling for years and years, possibly at least a decade. Stuff like that just makes my blood boil.

  115. OTRex*

    “It looks better to the community”?!?!? Says WHO? I’m a single person, property owner, so I pay taxes, none of which benefit any children I have (since I have none) and I would NEVER expect teachers to buy their own stuff! What are the school districts doing with my tax dollars? Oh right, buying every single kid a Chromebook… :-/.

  116. Thulcandran*

    I haven’t seen this on here yet, so I’ll mention it: depending on your community, and potentially other teachers’ feelings, consider an op-ed relating this experience. If you feel it would be too risky, of course, that wouldn’t be worth it. But I suspect a lot of people would be horrified that they were being used as an excuse to wring money out of an overworked, underpaid population.

  117. Database Developer Dude*

    I would, at the demand to go over my personal budget, bust out laughing, then abruptly stop and say “oh, you’re serious.” with a concerned look on my face. That should shut things down right away.

  118. somuchhomework*

    Oh dear. Even among folks who are sympathetic to the struggles that teachers have, I always feel like few people really understand the absolute ridiculousness many teachers are facing in their jobs. I’ve worked for three different school districts and have never even received any budget for supplies for my classroom. In each of those schools, I’ve been lucky to get a broken stapler and poster board paper. Everything else has come out of my own pocket down to the granola bars and sanitary pads I hoarded in my classroom to help students whose parents couldn’t provide those items for their kids.
    For those of you who work in offices with any sort of philanthropic budget or extra office supplies- please consider donating office supplies to your local schools. It’s rough out here.

  119. cmcinnyc*

    Parent here, SCREAMING INTO THE NIGHT SKY on your behalf. I live in New York City, one of the richest cities in the world, and every year parents get a list–a long list, an *extensive* list right down to paper towels and Kleenex, of supplies to bring on the 1st day of school. My husband and I would both tote two full tote bags of stuff along with our skipping kiddo and drop them off, and we’d get wishlists and re-up all year (Band-Aids, notebooks, pens). At my job, we are going to bucket-brigade stocking backpacks for school districts that don’t have enough parents well-off enough to haul as much as they can carry to school. IN THE RICHEST CITY IN THIS US OF A. I firmly, strongly, deeply have come to believe it is sexism. Most primary school teachers are women. Women take care of children. No matter what we require of them, how much education and professionalism, at the end of the day, “the community” expects women to take care of children for love, not money. Including other people’s children.

    We can afford to put in that massive Staples order and we are healthy enough to carry it however many blocks we gotta go (or on the subway, that’s fun) but ONE Wall Street firm could donate 0.001% of their profit and take care of the whole thing with a copy of The Elements of Style for every single one of the 800,000 public school kids in this city–but we don’t.

    You are not crazy. The world is crazy.

    1. Batgirl*

      It’s absolutely sexism. Teaching isn’t actually Mrs Birling’s charity club to showcase caring feminity in the real world though.

  120. Holy Carp*

    I think it’s been mentioned before, but does the OP have a union rep in the building? A chat with that person might be clarifying.

  121. Teacher*

    Sometimes, PTAs offer teacher grants of $50-$150 for supplies- particularly for lesson plans that emphasize STEAM concepts or are differentiated to aid students with special needs and ESOL learners. Walmart (and other stores) also offer small grants to teachers. She should ask the manager on duty for the grant application form. This wouldn’t be for things like tissues, but for supplies for effective, creative, inspired lesson plans. At the end of the semester, some local colleges here put out cardboard boxes for used-but still usable- notebooks, pens, pencils, etc… and then give that to local schools.

    Years ago in Southeast Ohio, to make the point about how much of their own money they spent, teachers at our local elementary took everything out of their classrooms that they had paid for and filled up two 18-wheeler trucks in the school parking lot. The classrooms were basically emptied except for desks and chairs.

  122. Piano Girl*

    My husband is a high school theatre teacher. He taught at a lower-income school for 27 years. No budget whatsoever. For the most part, we funded his program out of our own pockets. He has fed and dressed his students because their parents, if they had them, couldn’t be bothered. Every year, he spent way more than $3,000 on school expenses.
    So, to all those who are upset at this – Find a way to help out a teacher instead of just being angry. Ask them what they need, give them a gift card to Target or Dollar Tree, don’t complain if their teacher requires them to provide something. Until our communities value teachers, great teachers are going to leave the profession in droves.

  123. Qu’est-ce-que Y’all Fait?*

    So I teach in a relatively socioeconomically and racially diverse high school in a major city. I teach kids who are planning to go to Ivy Leagues alongside kids who are hoping they don’t have to live out of their family car next week. I’m newish to teaching, 4th year total, 2nd year at this school, and I teach French. Last year, I did not even have my own classroom. I had to teach in other teachers’ rooms while they were on their planning periods. I couldn’t decorate, as I was only in each room for 50 minutes a day. Most of the rooms I taught in were used for other subjects for the rest of the day. Imagine trying to teach beginner French with Spanish grammar posters all over the room, or chemistry formulas. The only things I could bring with me were what could fit on a cart, and I traveled between floors. It was a nightmare for me and the kids. But it taught me something valuable: the one class I had that met in another French teacher’s permanent classroom? Was by far the most successful. This year, I’m buying the freaking stuff, even though I’m basically having to build a classroom from scratch (now that I actually have one). And let me tell you, finding French language posters, maps, books etc in the American South is not easy. It’s expensive. My school will order some stuff, like paper and dry erase markers etc. The PTA will reimburse up to $50. But that’s all the help we get. I’m lucky in that I have a lot of friends and family who were willing to purchase and donate items off my amazon wishlist. I still have a lot of needs though, and my students arrive in a week.

    My point is, OP, I know this sucks, and I’m not saying go out and spend thousands of dollars of your own money. But the kids learn better when they have an environment that’s engaging. It’s easy to get stuck on the unfairness of it all, but if you stay there, the kids are who pay the price, never the admins or the systems as a whole. My suggestion? Get the things you ABSOLUTELY need for the first day. For me that’s the things needed for my discipline, daily routine etc. So my late/absent work system, cellphone prison, turn-in tray, folders/binders for the state-mandated stuff, pens and pencils. That was basically $50, my district reimbursement cap. The rest, put on your first day parent letter. Depending on the area you’re serving, parents might even be receptive to a link to your own wishlist. Hopefully you’re in a place where at least some of the families are in a position to donate. If they’re not, you can reevaluate after a few weeks and come up with a plan B. And if you’re still stuck on the unfairness of the expectation, tell the kids and their parents! I bet you’ll have one good parent who advocates for their kid so hard you kinda want them to stop ALL THE TIME. harness that helicoptering parenting for good, and sic them on your principal or school board. It may not help immediately, but it might make everyone feel better :)

  124. Princesa Zelda*

    My mother was a teacher in Title I schools for several years — she started as a long-term sub who covered the entire school year (for different positions, at different levels) several years in a row and then got her own elementary classroom. She would wind up spending thousands of dollars on her classrooms even with already having a classroom library composed of my and my siblings’ books. She literally wouldn’t have been able to teach, otherwise — she was supplying *everything*. The only things the school district gave her in her own room was: enough desks, usually; textbooks; a projector; 30 pencils and notebooks; and 50 copies per month, with class sizes of 30+. The districts she worked at gave out school supply lists, but with 90%+ on free/reduced lunch, it was like hoping the fairies would come and bring things. The families couldn’t afford it. It got to the point where her classroom budget, gas for the commute, the price of takeout since she was too tired to cook, etc basically equalled her salary.

    I don’t want to discourage you, OP! I know a lot of teachers who really do love to do their job every day. Many of my teachers are still role models today, and a lot of my peers who grew up to be teachers really deeply love it. But education in the US, as a general thing, is deeply demanding on your soul and your post-tax income. I wish you the best of luck, and I genuinely hope you get the district to pay for your school supplies.

  125. IamNotaRobot*

    As a mom of a child who will start school next year, how can I contribute to the teacher’s funds, without looking like a bribe?

    1. amanda_cake*

      Buy everything on the school supply list, with extras. If the teacher asks for Crayola or Expo, get the name brand. They last longer and work better.

      If the teacher has a project on DonorsChoose, you can help fund it.

    2. Turtle Candle*

      My mom used to drop off a bag with a handful of extras of certain supplies (pencils, notebooks, crayons, etc.) “for the kids who lose or forget them.” (I mean, she wasn’t naive, she knew that some kids had parents who couldn’t afford them or didn’t care and was happy for the supplies to go to them, but she preferred to put a more positive spin on it at the start of the year.) She’d also say, either then or later in the year, “I have some books we were getting rid of, do you want them?” because my brother and I read significantly above grade level and were often in the possession of books that were grade-appropriate but that we were no longer interested in. Same thing for educational toys that we’d gotten bored with, like, my grandmother got one of those science toys where it’s a thing that has low pressure inside and so when you hold it in your hand the water starts to boil? It was interesting for about three days and then we were bored of it, so she offered it to my fifth grade teacher.

      I don’t particularly think it was likely to be perceived as a bribe, but part of that is that my mom has a very warm, helpful affect. And it wasn’t like she was slipping the teacher a fifty or something. I think if you’re offering classroom-appropriate goods, and not money, it will be received with surprised pleasure and no thought that you’re trying to buy their goodwill.

    3. political staffer*

      When a gift giving occasion arises (holidays, end of year), get the teacher a gift card to a place like Target or Staples so she/he can buy classroom supplies.

  126. Someone commenting*

    This not just in the US. In my old high school, teachers were “expected” to donate 50-60% of their state mandated salary back to the school via supplies and donations. Not doing that got you the worst timeslots and general bullying. The administration did that in order to spend more on sports and vanity project out of their not very high budget.

  127. ..Kat..*

    I just wanted to let you know that some of a teacher’s spending on this can be tax deductible. I DEFINITELY think teachers should not be expected to fund their classroom supplies. I just wanted to point out the tax deduction in case you are a teacher and feel you have to spend your own money because of crappy pressure and expectations.

  128. ..Kat..*

    This happens to nurses also. My hospital sends me emails all the time encouraging me to donate to X fund or Y fund. My current hospital just emails, no extra pressure. But, some hospitals are really demanding about employees “donating.” Even worse, they put the pressure on employees who make minimum wage.

    And we nurses do it to each other. I keep getting pressured to donate to funding accounts for specific patients (note that other nurses are pressuring me, not patients), for defraying the cost of a medical mission trip a nurse is taking, or my personal favorite-to send flowers to a nurse who had a car accident on the way to work (no one was injured). For the last one, I just wanted to scream, “my younger brother was just crushed to death in a car accident and I didn’t even get a sh**ty card, and you want me to pony up for flowers for this?” Okay, I just got wildly off track. Sorry. Just keep your hands out of my pocket book.

  129. Civilian Linetti*

    Oh my goodness.

    I had no idea this was such a widespread problem in the US.

    I worked in a secondary school in the UK as a librarian and the most I had to buy for myself was a pen if I wanted something different than what was in the supply cupboard. We were limited to so many photocopies a quarter, our book budget was half-local authority and half from fund raising, but teachers didn’t have to buy the textbooks for their classes, we would work with them and the curriculum to supply the books in the library.

    People complain a lot about UK local authorities having to cut the education budgets, but it is nowhere near the sorry state of teaching in the US. What a rock and a hard place – care about your students and want them to do well = spending your own money to get them the resources they need.

    I feel ashamed of how many pencils and crap I wasted during my state education years. Stuff provided between my parents and my school. Wow to think that teachers have to do this personally in America. Are any political candidates covering this?!

    1. londonedit*

      Yeah, I know school funding here is being cut and I know parents do often contribute money towards school supplies, but (to my knowledge…) we’re not talking about actual loo roll and cleaning products. Those things are provided by the school! I think parents have long been asked to subsidise school trips, but some (or occasionally all) of the cost of those is also paid for by funds from the PTA or school fundraising, with the idea that if there are kids whose parents can’t afford to contribute to the trip, they won’t miss out.

      When I was at school we tended to bring our own pencils/pens/pencil cases because we liked to use the ones we preferred, and hey it was fun to get a new pencil case and pens at the start of the school year every September, but the school also supplied plenty of basic pens, pencils and stationery, all of our notebooks, paper, art supplies, glue, books to read, etc etc. No one had to bring any of that themselves.

    2. Batgirl*

      Yeah this thread has changed my frustration with the school budget and made me feel very lucky to be in the UK. I hate the fact that stationary orders get vetoed after a certain point in the year and that I’m buying students’ pens after that; that kids in the poorest area of the country have to equip themselves. But the scale I’m reading about here is something else. I have paper, books, unlimited photocopying, whiteboards and laptops. We also have a pupil premium cupboard stocked year-round so I can sign out supplies for the kids in care, or who have parents on benefits. Tough luck if your family is working poor or if your parents are simply arseholes. Now I actually feel quite blessed. Particularly by the attitude I’m hearing is not universal. My head teacher is part of a delegation lobbying the government. My department head is helping me dredge up furniture for a new learning hub from the community. He doesn’t care how it looks. A neighbouring head is asking for parental donations of toilet paper instead of harvest festival donations. As a school we’ve gone into debt to provide a breakfast club because you can’t teach hungry kids. Oh, we’ll get into trouble…but bring it on.

  130. GigglyPuff*

    Oh man this annoys the life out of me. So sorry OP.
    I work in state government, we just got our annual, donate school supplies because we know we don’t give enough money, so we’re asking the people we barely pay in the first place to give us some. Every year it just pushes my buttons.

    1. Iris Eyes*

      Kind of reminds me of the food drives for Walmart employees targeted at other Walmart employees.

  131. Wing Leader*

    Whoa whoa, no way. I’d say something like this to your boss:

    “Boss, I was thinking about what you said the other day regarding going over my personal budget with me. I’ve realized I’m very uncomfortable with that idea because our family finances are between me and my husband. I’m sorry I didn’t say so sooner, but I was honestly a little taken aback at the suggestion. From this point on, I’d like to keep my personal finances out of the discussion, and I’d just like you to believe me when I say I can’t afford to pitch in this much money. Thanks for understanding.”

  132. Quill*

    My mom retired from teaching (11 years 5th grade, 3 years 2nd grade) recently and the struggle for adequate supplies is real. Our district ends up hounding the families for basic classroom hygeine supplies (kleenex, lysol wipes…) and relies on the teachers / accumulated donations of secondhand items to provide silent reading books, extra crayons, craft supplies, etc.

    To set up her first classroom she spent quite a bit of money, and over the years we spent a LOT of time combing rummage sales for secondhand books sturdy and cheap enough to add to a classroom library, not to mention checking to see if they were age appropriate. (The number of people who think Amelia Bedelia is 5th grade reading material is matched only by the number of people who tried to give twilight to second graders…)

    All of this is secondary to the fact that TEACHERS PERSONAL LIVES ARE NOT PUBLIC PROPERTY and we need to start acting like that. This means no scrutinizing their household budget (you shouldn’t be paying for the supplies you need to work anyway) no scrutinizing their private lives on and offline (there’s no other profession where you can catch that much flack for a photo of you with a glass of wine at a bachelorette party posted to facebook,) and above all, actually paying them and funding schools.

  133. PharmaCat*

    I encourage all my teacher friends to publish wish lists and I shop on them, because it’s a small way I can help out.

  134. Hooptie*

    A suggestion that may help a bit – contact local companies and offer an idea. My company is doing a sales and marketing team building next month, and the initial idea was to stuff backpacks with school supplies for kids. However, we’re going to miss that window, so now we’re going to stuff bags with supplies for classrooms and for the Boys and Girls club. We’ll be paying for all of the supplies based on a list provided to us by the schools and the B&G club. At the same time, some of the kids are going to come in for presentations by sales and marketing to explain some of the roles and how our jobs tie into the larger scope of the business as a sort of career training. It will be great for our team to meet the kids and first hand see who they are helping. This is the best teambuilding idea I’ve ever heard and I’m super excited to be on the planning team!

    1. Quill*

      When I was a glorified intern in a company that was about to move, I suggested that our room of science lab supplies donations go to local schools, (because anyone who uses a 10 mL volumetric flask has to order 50 of them and likely only 3 were ever used.)

      But that came down to a once-a-decade opportunity for local teachers to sort through and collect on their own time, and for a nice fat tax write-off for the company based on the market value of those items as listed new. Theoretically, notebooks and pens could be donated more often but honestly? In the end those companies need to be paying their fair share of taxes rather than getting a SECOND tax break donating cast-offs to schools after they didn’t pay the property tax that went to the schools in the first place.


  135. Trying a New Name*

    Late comment but I just want to say thank you to all the teachers out there for everything you do and you all deserve to have your salaries AT LEAST tripled for all the hard work and passion you put into your work.

  136. TinLizi*

    As a former teacher, that is horrible! The schools I worked in, and maybe I was luckier than most, the teachers might buy things like rugs, special decorations, mainly reusable stuff that they would use for years and take with them if they moved schools. But, the schools provided consumables (markers, pencils, etc…).

  137. Nana*

    In the 70’s, Teacher in a low-income school contacted a teacher in a high-income school…the latter’s school was THROWING away books and other things left in classrooms. Low-income teacher was able to gather a truck-and-driver and haul away everything she could get her hands on.
    BTW: ‘Kleenex’ brand is often required because low-cost tissues suck.

  138. political staffer*

    This post is a good reminder for those of you with school aged children. If you are going to give your child’s teacher an end of the year or holiday gift, consider a gift card to places like Staples or Target that could be used on classroom supplies. Or gift a copy of your child’s favorite book for the classroom library.

    I’m the daughter of a retired teacher. They don’t need apple themed items like mugs, Christmas ornaments, etc. They probably have dozens of them already.

  139. CS*

    I would go back to the principal and ask: “Can you explain more about what you meant when you said that it was more of a discretionary fund and it looked better to the community if the teachers pitched in more?”

  140. Kati*

    Heeeeey — former teacher here. If this wasn’t already said, the teacher needs to BRING THIS UP WITH THE SUPERINTENDENT. Any good superintendent will realize that principal vastly overstepped and was way out of line. It’s not unusual in any district — particularly strapped ones — for teachers to spend a couple hundred dollars of their own money on classroom decorations and useful items the school won’t or can’t step up for, but to suggest that this teacher’s own personal spending was the problem keeping them from spending three thousand dollars they shouldn’t have to spend? Literally a conversation the superintendent needs to be made very aware of, in case this is a regular occurrence.

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