A few thoughts about teacher economics

A question was raised on Twitter about teacher economics: How much per year do you spend on classroom supplies and the like as a teacher? There’s an essential point in this, and it is one that I want to make carefully. When I worked in the private sector running newspapers and news organizations, I certainly spent my own money on my job. But in my time, the basics were always covered.

Teacher economics

As a teacher, I spend somewhere around $800 to $1,000 of my own money on supplies and other required things. And by supplies, let me be clear. The school, the district, the state, parents, or someone other than me should supply these things. I’m talking pencils and composition books for students to use in class. I’m talking items to decorate the room – posters, bulletin board materials, and the like – items that are part of the “environment” rubric when evaluating my effectiveness as a teacher.
teacher economics

You try to devise lessons and activities that are engaging and help students master the standards. It isn’t easy – or cheap.

Poster paper. Index cards. Pens. Colored pencils. Glue sticks.

Oh. Now, there’s this.

Every school where I’ve taught provides limits on how many photocopies a teacher can make in the workroom. When they run out, you start paying, even though you are encouraged to use paper at least some of the time. And then the school runs out of paper. Yes, I’ve taught at schools that ran out of paper. Who pays for copies, then? That’s right. Me. For my classes – as many as 150 or more students. The teacher economics began to stink, really.

And then…

There are other things.

The homeless student needs a pair of shoes. The kid who enlists in the military against his mother’s will needs some items before heading to boot camp. Collections for an impoverished kid heading to college. Covering the cost of a kid whose parents can’t afford to send him or her on a field trip.

Or as an English teacher, developing a classroom library, or keeping a robust amount of reading material for students.

I was once instructed to have a stop clock/timer on my wall. I had to pay for it. I like a desk lamp on my desk, as the lighting helps—all on my dime.

The list goes on.


Under the old BEP program in Tennessee, I received $200 per year for classroom supplies. Not sure what Tennessee’s new TISA funding formula will do to classroom supplies. And I got a $300 tax deduction on my federal taxes this year.

So you create an Amazon Wishlist hoping folks will help you with supplies, but of course, every district I’ve taught in has strict policies against creating and publicizing an Amazon Wishlist.

When I say I spend $800 to $1,000 a year, there’s a lot I’m probably not including that drives up that amount. This might be snacks during the testing season, tangible student rewards, and similar expenses. These are items not covered by BEP. The list goes on.

 Still, the point is that teacher economics are messy. And our society can do much better by its teachers and, most importantly, by its students.