What It Costs To Be A Teacher

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No more pencils, no more books could be the refrain of the nation's teachers as they dig ever deeper to prepare their classrooms. Or as the meme puts it: "Teaching is one of the only jobs where you steal supplies from home to bring to work!"

Toughest hit are the first-year teachers who walk into a classroom that may have chairs and desks, but little in the way of basic supplies. We polled teachers in the Facebook Badass Teachers Association and the topic struck a nerve. (Here's another view on back-to-school costs for teachers.)

"It does seem teachers are spending more than ever due to budget cuts, and fundraising to get what they need for their kids," says Marla Kilfoyle, a high school teacher in Oceanside NY, and an administrator of the BAT, which has more than 50,000 members from across the country. "Teachers seem to be spending $500 - $1,000 for supplies. It depends on where they work -- teachers in poverty districts seem to be spending more.

"Look at the popularity of Donorschoose.org - why do we need that?" Kilfoyle adds, referring to the crowdsourced Internet fundraising site.

Teachers post that while they've been buying their own supplies forever, there's an added sting this year because even the modest tax deduction has expired.

It's not just teachers in high poverty districts who are affected.

"I'm one of the lucky ones," posted one teacher, "because my district allows us $250 a year for supplies. Unfortunately, I teach 95 - 105 students, 180 days a year, so that doesn't go terribly far. Although I teach in an extremely affluent district, I still spend $1,000 - $2,000 a year on supplies. Why? Because we are only permitted to work with certain vendors, who only carry certain items/books/supplies.

"When I see something I know my kids can benefit from (erasable highlighters being the latest odd little example)," she adds, "I can either A) wait 6-8 months for the state and district-sanctioned vendors to start carrying them or B) buy my kids what will work for them right now. Since I've only got one shot to make seventh grade count for the kids I teach right now, I spend my own money."

Adds another teacher in a high-poverty Chicago school: "I spent about $1,000 in work-related costs. $250 of those were direct classroom supply -- the rest were books, paper/ink supplies. We get a $100 stipend as reimbursement but it's added to our paycheck and taxed as income."

"Both my husband and I teach in a large funding-starved city school district in Pennsylvania," one teacher writes. "I've taught first and second grade and he's done both Autism Support and Life Skills. Between us we spend at LEAST $3,500 per year on our students. The money goes toward basic school supplies, food (snacks and extra breakfasts because many of the kids hate the crappy free food), field trip money for kids that have trouble paying for them, clothing (coats, sweaters, uniform shirts, gloves ... I even bought a kid socks because he kept coming to school in the winter without them) and prizes to support our classroom management systems.

"I still wouldn't teach anywhere else though," she adds.

More than a half million new K-12 and post-secondary teaching jobs are projected to be created by the year 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, along with 90,000+ non-classroom posts ranging from administration to counseling. (See current education job listings here.)

Yet even counselors are not immune. One supplies the tissues for a department that serves 1,400 students.

First-year teachers are hit especially hard, but this is not a new development. Those in the elementary grades report scouring Goodwills and other low-cost sources to build required classroom reading libraries.

"My first year, my classroom was bare except for chairs and desks .... and a paper cutter! I asked for supplies and the principal said, 'Payday is a week away!' " recalls one 16-year veteran teacher who has purchased furniture, books, teacher resources and more over the course of her career.

"There would be just a skeleton of a classroom should I leave and take what I personally paid for," she adds. Her school allots $200 for classroom materials, which is mainly used to make copies. She goes through that in the first marking period.

Still, 32 percent of Americans have considered a career in teaching according to a December 2013 survey from Harris Interactive for Kaplan University's School of Graduate Education. It just launched Virtual Advisor, an online tool to help college graduates chart the best path to convert their experience and degrees into career opportunities in education.

Still, the sacrifice is real. One single parent who makes $55,000 a year had to move her kids out of their home because they could no longer afford to live there.

"We are vilified often but are the first to champion the kids we teach," she adds. "Find another 'white collar' profession that people will stay in with pay freezes, pension and medical roulette and constant public criticism. That's your story. Not what I'm willing and happy to do for my students."

"I have averaged about $1,000 per year for the last 29 years," says a veteran teacher. "When my financial planner heard that, he asked, incredulously, 'Do you have any idea of the lost opportunity costs associated with that? I replied with equal incredulousness, 'You mean I could have been investing that $1,000 each year in my future? Oh, wait ... I was!"

As another teacher put it: "Yeah, the costs are high but the payoffs are freakin' amazing."

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