About Cari Zall

Cari Zall has been a Social Sciences educator for over 12 years, in both brick & mortar and online environments. She currently works as the Curriculum and Instructional Support Manager for an online high school dropout recovery program, and is the Assignment Editor and a writer for The Educator’s Room, an online education magazine. Cari is certified in Gamification and has worked on several projects incorporating Gamification into online and traditional education environments. Her areas of expertise include Gamification and Student Resilience & Motivation; Conflict Resolution & Collaboration, and social justice education. Prior to her teaching career, Cari worked for 15 years in civil litigation and as a human rights activist in Northern Ireland and Washington, DC. She holds a BA in Conflict Analysis & Resolution, an Masters in Teaching, and an MA in Political Science. Cari is a James Madison Fellow, and is the author of the book, How to Finish the Test When Your Pencil Breaks: A Teacher Faces Layoff, Unemployment and a Career Shift. You can finder her on twitter at @teachacari.

This week begins the 4th Annual RedditGifts for the Teachers.  While the website reddit.com is often in the news for its more controversial communities, it is a vast discussion site that hosts thousands of independent conversations. One thing it is best known for are its organized gift exchanges in which tens of thousands of people around the world give each other gifts.  One of those is the Gifts for Teachers drive that occurs this time each year. Teachers sign up and list a few things they could use for their classroom, and creditors (people who participate in the site) get matched with a teacher to whom they gift what was requested.   At the beginning of the exchange this week, over 18,000 teachers from the United States had signed up to request a few items.

Quotes on the site from teachers:

“I teach a busy 3rd grade classroom with 24 students. Our supply budget this year has decreased to $25 for the year, leaving the majority of supplies out of our reach.”
“I’m a science teacher at a low-income urban school where the majority of students are impoverished. Some of our students are homeless. They have a difficult time obtaining the supplies needed to start school on the right foot: notebooks, pencils, colored pencils, glue, so forth. We use interactive notebooks and these materials are crucial to their success in the classroom. I find myself purchasing many of these items out-of-pocket however I teach about 150 students and cannot provide for all of them.”
“Annually I get $0.91 per student for supplies…that is with my final 150 students….this doesn’t account for the 50+students that can flow in and out of my classroom on a given year thanks to moving or course changes. This makes it difficult to keep up with resupplying basic costs for the classroom, let alone providing them interesting materials they actually want to work with – so important in engaging students.”

Last year, generous donors gave over $600,000 to teachers in this gift drive. And yet that barely matches what teachers around the country pay out of their own pockets for their students.

Forbes reported in 2014 that teachers spend an average of $410 of their own dollars each year on their classrooms or for their students, many spending upwards of $1000 or more a year. In 2013, the National School Supply and Equipment Association did research and found that teachers spent $1.6 billion of their own money in that school year alone. And yet, this remains one of the lowest paying professions for people with post-graduate degrees and years of experience.

As the 2016 General Election year gets closer and close, we hear more and more politicians ranting about how much money is spent on education, and yet teachers and students are starting the year without the supplies they need. There are inequalities across the country because states spend such vastly different amounts supporting education accountability systems, but not necessarily the basic and creative needs of the students themselves. I have never read a news story about doctors having to set up exchanges to get the equipment they need. Or financiers setting up gift exchanges to help each other just do their basic jobs. And yet educators, equal professionals as those other career fields, open up their own wallets and spend their own meager incomes year after year.

I don’t believe any profession should have to rely on the generosity of its own employees to provide the services it is supposed to provide, especially to children.  But it is the current reality. I was one of those teachers. Every year I was in a traditional classroom, I spent my own money on notebooks and pencils and materials for my students. My goal was to make learning as engaging as possible, and that meant I had to support myself in that endeavor.  I am still a teacher, but because I don’t have a physical classroom, I also participate in the RedditGifts for Teachers every year. There is a teacher out there this year who could use my help. I wish he or she would get the salary they deserve and a generous supply allowance to build an engaging, creative classroom for their students.  But until they do, I will pitch in too.

If you are paying out of your own pocket for your classroom this year or you are donating to a teacher who needs help, consider thinking about a bigger investment in the future as this election year approaches. Electing school boards, state legislators, and governors who value the education profession and understand what it gives to our society will go a long way towards teachers not having to pay out of their own pockets to do the jobs they love. Perhaps it’s time our money goes to more than just pencils and paper, but also to actual transformational change for our classrooms.

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