by ALISTAIR BOMPHRAY
So I’ve been thinking about money lately. As in, where’d all mine go? Oh yeah—I spent it on backstage passes for the upcoming NKOTB reunion tour. Step One: We can have lots of fun!
Actually, a hefty portion of my paycheck went into my classroom this year. Teachers of the world, sing it with me: Baby, I got your money, don’t you worry, I said hey. The list of expenditures (or needs) is a long one, from basic classroom supplies (such as Kleenex, books, yes, even paper) to “big picture” items (such as posters, furniture, Edgar Allen Poe Halloween costume, etc.).
No doubt there are teachers out there who steadfastly refuse to spend their own money on their classroom. I, for one, am not so resolved. I probably spent close to three hundred dollars on food alone this year. Is that freakin’ crazy? Please tell me, ‘cause I don’t know anymore.
It’s just so hard to know where to draw a line. On a personal level, I have no problem being thrifty. But when it comes to my students, I have a hard time saying no. I want my classroom, to be, you know, nice. That’s an understatement— I want it to be a “temple,” as one of my students recently put it while describing the ideal school. And if you’ve stepped into a typical urban school lately, “temple” isn’t the word that comes to mind exactly (try “detention center”). So I’ve invested in my classroom, figuratively and literally. It’s no temple, but it’s not bad either.
Of course, every profession comes with its own list of job related expenses. And by no means should teachers be exempt from this. But the problem is, teachers are tacitly expected to make up for the inequities of our educational system—inequities which are directly responsible for the so-called achievement gap. Shouldn’t that burden be a shared one?
The present arrangement simply isn’t fair to teachers or students. You say your district can’t find the money for a class set of The House on Mango Street? Well, you better get your ass to a Kinko’s and shell out a few bucks for your kids. Or just stick to the textbook instead. The textbook’s not terrible.
I’m not so idealistic to think that economics shouldn’t ever enter into the equation. Schools have a budget—of course they do. I just think it’s a travesty that teachers (especially teachers in disadvantaged communities) must so often make a choice between their students and their own financial solvency.
Two other related points worth noting: 1) Teachers are eligible for the $250 Educator Expenses Tax Deduction. It’s certainly a start, albeit a meager one. And, 2) Three teachers in my eight-teacher academy had their cars stolen this year. Three! Bad luck perhaps, but it reminds me that committing to teach and live in an urban environment means you will get jacked at some point. Especially in these desperate times.
Am I writing all this because I think teachers should be paid more? Not exactly. As you have probably heard, there’s a charter school in New York City that plans to pay its teachers $125,000 a year. That’s two and a half times as much as the national average. In order to offer such a groundbreaking salary, they are cutting from other areas. For example, the principal will make $35,000 less than the teachers. Plus, there will be no assistant principals, deans, substitute teachers, or teacher coaches; the teachers themselves will fill these various roles.
On the one hand, the idea that waving a six-figure carrot is the best way to assemble a team of excellent teachers makes me squirm a little. I’m also distrustful of any principal who earned his chops while founding a test prep company. But I do like the spirit of it—the willingness (and, by virtue of their charter status, the freedom) to examine and rework the school budget in creative ways.
I would be content with this: A thousand dollars a year. That’s it. A thousand dollars to invest in my classroom as I see fit (that last stipulation, by the way, is an important one). I’ll keep my normal teacher salary—just give me a thousand dollar annual stimulus to create a Poetry Corner in my classroom. Or to take my students on a field trip to a nearby museum. Or to buy cookies for Parent-Teacher night. Surely if a school in NYC can find an extra $50,000 per teacher (at least), my own district can find $1000/per.
Now who’s with me?