We all know that money matters, right? In most any human endeavor, money plays some kind of role. So it should come as no surprise that it matters a lot in education.
As in, it matters a whole lot. Can I be any more clear about that?
New teachers need to really understand the particulars of this, as it will explain a lot of what's going on in your school building, district and state.
Budgets control absolutely everything, and there is never enough money in them for the things that you feel really matter. I'll talk more about how this impacts you personally in a moment.
Budgets are tricky things because they are always divided up into different buckets of money. One bucket may be completely empty, while another one is still overflowing. That's why you'll never be provided with enough pencils in your classroom, but your school district will spend millions of dollars on brand-new curricula.
It seems crazy, but it's the way every business in the world works.
Sometimes districts are restricted on how they can spend certain buckets of money because they've been filled through tax levies or other election-driven processes. Perhaps they've been given grants that come with strings attached.
How much money will you see?
There are all kinds of reasons that money can be spent in large doses in certain places and yet not be available for spending in other places. It's complicated, but you just need to know that, although there's a lot of money sloshing around in the education system, you personally may see evidence of only a few drops in your own classroom.
The mere existence of money in the education system puts extensive pressure on priorities, but that’s nothing compared to the pressure that results from a lack of money. You see, the general public who care so passionately about education also firmly believe that their taxes should be as low as possible.
Yes, this is a contradiction, but there it is. It may not make sense, but it’s how things work.
You might see some money spent in your classroom on the latest-and-greatest, whiz-bang program from admin, but that hardly counts for anything!
More money matters
And now, even more discussion of money… your money!
Think back to your own elementary school classrooms. Remember the cute nametags on the desks, the cheerful themes, the coordinated labels on the book tubs? Do you think your classroom teachers were given a special little pot of money to create those welcoming atmospheres?
Sure, the school probably had some markers lying around or some colored paper, but those decorations you remember were not hacked together with markers and colored paper! They were purchased out-of-pocket by the teacher.
And it's not only decorations. Do you remember those overflowing tubs filled with books to explore? Doesn't that seem like a basic requirement for properly stocking a classroom? Well, of course it does, but I will guarantee that over three-fourths of the general-reading books that you find in any elementary classroom are purchased by the teacher.
The list goes on and on. Teaching is extraordinarily unique in that there is a societal expectation that teachers will spend their own personal money on their professional jobs. More than that, teachers themselves expect to do it, and, although they will complain about it, they will still keep doing it.
Yes, there is some reimbursement built into the system. It is usually a few hundred dollars available through a Federal tax deduction, and many states and districts do have some stipends that have been negotiated into teacher contracts to help reimburse these out-of-pocket expenditures.
But don't kid yourself: these reimbursements will come nowhere close to making up the money that you will spend over the years on creating a safe and effective learning environment for your students.
It's not just on classroom decorations and books that you'll be spending money; you will find that it's difficult to get funding for something as basic as pencils or hand sanitizer.
Parents to the rescue… sometimes
You may be lucky enough to have supportive parents who will gladly provide classroom items, but you may find yourself working in schools where parental support is nonexistent, and, if you want these items in your classroom, you will end up paying for them.
You’ll do it because you won't be able to bear the thought of children coming to school and spending six hours in non-optimal conditions. A cynic might suggest that your administration is relying on that; they know that you will be driven by your heart to create an ideal classroom environment even if they don't help you pay for it.
And still the outflow of money won’t stop. In addition to decorations, books, and basic supplies, you will find yourself seriously considering paying for curricula.
Paying for curricula
If you have not heard of Teachers Pay Teachers, you soon will. It's an open marketplace for teachers to sell lesson plans, etc., to other teachers. I have almost 250 education items listed there myself, and you can see that I sell these same items on this website in my online store.
I am very honored that teachers consider my supplies to be helpful in the classroom and that they are willing to pay for them. But I also understand that it seems crazy that the curriculum provided to these teachers is so inadequate that they feel they must supplement by paying out of their own pockets in order to properly teach their children.
But, again, those kids who look at you for six hours every day, expecting you to work miracles, will be all the justification you need to spend your latté money on multiplication worksheets. Well, let's be honest: it's not only the children who will drive you to pay for your own curricula – tests and accountability will provide just as much motivation.