According to a new survey released by the United States Department of Education, 94 percent of teachers said they spent their own money on classroom supplies during the 2014-2015 school year, and the average amount spent was $479.
Early childhood education teacher Natalie Soto-Mehle says one of the things she loves most about the three and four-year-olds who make up her class at Trevista Elementary School in Denver is their “energy and joy for life.”
So she chooses to do all she can to make their day as engaging as possible.
“We might want some sparkly pencils to make it a little bit more interesting,” she said, adding that she’d be buying these types of things with her own money.
She acknowledges that a lot of what she buys wouldn’t be considered “essential” by many people, but they’re ways that she can make the experience better for her students.
“We have a great library, and I do use it, but I want the books for future use so I’ll buy the books that I want,” she said.
Soto-Mehle says she probably buys over $1,000 worth of extra supplies for her students each year. She can even remember a few years that hit the $2,000 mark.
But she just chalks it up to being a teacher.
“It’s part of what you do,” she said.
Does it surprise Soto-Mehle that 94 percent of teachers pay for supplies out of their pocket? Not at all, adding that she “knows a lot of teachers” who do the same.
Some of the expenses she incurs are for art supplies like markers, crayons, and paints; storage contains like bins and baskets; picture books that she wants to keep for her students from one year to the next; even houseplants for the room.
In her classroom, she’s fortunate in that many of the students’ families contribute things like art supplies and tissues to the school’s pot at the beginning of the year.
But when you’re supply “runs out mid-year” as Soto-Mehle says can happen, she doesn’t want to go back to the families.
“You don’t want to ask families to pitch in,” she said, adding that “it’s important to me, so I’m not complaining about it.”