Teachers spend hundreds of dollars on back to school supplies

Aug 11, 2017

Parents aren't the only ones who spend big getting ready for the school year. Teachers, it turns out, fork over about $500 of their own money each year for school supplies, according to a survey by Scholastic.

Teachers and principals in high-poverty schools spend even more than that on supplying kids, equipping classrooms, and setting themselves up to teach for the whole school year. (If you would like, you can donate supplies to teachers in your area through multiple nonprofit organizations or by giving directly to local schools.)

Carrie Barrett, a high school math and computer science teacher in Los Angeles is in her third year of teaching. By now she knows what she needs to make her classroom feel welcoming and supply some of her students with the notebooks she wants them to use.

Marketplace Weekend's Adriene Hill visited Carrie the day before school started, to discuss school budgets, supplies and what is on every teacher's wish list. Below is an edited excerpt of their conversation. 

Adriene HillHow long have you been a teacher?

Carrie Barrett: This will be my third year. My second year teaching high school. I love math. I love talking about math. I wanted to talk about math every day. So this is one of very few jobs where you get to do that.

Hill: How much do you spend every year buying stuff for your classroom?

Barrett: My first year I probably spent like maybe $300; last year maybe a little bit less, a couple hundred dollars, little less than that. We'll see what happens this coming year. There are a lot of school districts across the country that get a lot less money than we do. There's a lot of teachers that have to buy their own paper all year because they only get a few reams. I end up buying a couple of reams of my own paper every year too.

Hill: If your school got sort of an influx of cash would you want it to go to supplies or would you put it toward something else?

Barrett: I think the number one request that our teachers had in budget development last year was an extra box of paper.

Hill: That's remarkable. What do you wish that parents, even kids, understood about school budgets and what teachers do for their classroom?

Barrett: A teacher will be super grateful forever if you buy them the nice whiteboard markers. And make sure that your students know that just the little things that are around all the time are the things that it's most likely that your teachers spent their own money on, so if you could be nice to those it would be great.

Hill: And let me just ask one more thing — do you think teachers should have to spend that money?

Barrett: No. We don't make that much money. We make, you know, enough? And classroom environment is a really important thing to have.

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