07 January 2020

Public school teachers as scavengers

From a report in the Washington Post:
Like nearly all teachers in America, Becky Cranson spends her own money to buy supplies for her students. Working in a rural school district in Michigan, where 70 percent of her middle-school students come from low-income families, she shells out at least $1,000 a year for pencils, books, journals, glue sticks, tissues and much more...

“I am a scavenger,” said Cranson, who teaches English at Bronson Jr./Sr. High School in Bronson, Mich. “My friend who works in the Michigan [Department of Natural Resources] office gives me their used binders, and my husband brings me furniture and supplies that the hospital he works at is throwing away.”..

Federal data show that more than 9 in 10 educators spend an average of nearly $500 a year on supplies, but The Post review revealed that the problem is deeper, with teachers going to great lengths to secure resources for their classrooms... The vast majority of teachers who responded to The Post said they could not be identified by name or even district because they feared retaliation from bosses. One New England teacher spoke for many: “Please keep my name anonymous as I love teaching and would hate to face disciplinary action for simply being honest.”

They told similar stories about their search for supplies: paper and pencils and pens, erasers, markers and notebooks, tissue, furniture, books, menstrual pads, clothes, shoes, musical instruments, paint and clay, crayons, books, scissors, bulletin boards, food...

The time-sucking and sometimes soul-crushing process, teachers said, is one of the fundamental indignities they face. Asked to do the work of counselors, social workers, librarians, security officers and coaches, teachers earned on average 21.4 percent a week less than other comparably educated professionals in 2018, one study found. Yet they still are expected to buy supplies...

Kathryn Vaughn, an elementary school teacher in rural Tennessee north of Memphis, said her district provides her with $200 a year for supplies and two boxes of copy paper to teach visual arts to about 800 students from low-income families.

The recycling of old binders and furniture is good, but it's easy to see why some people feel that American politicians don't want to have a well-educated public.


  1. When I was drastically downsizing (thanks to a divorce), I looked for everything in my house that a school could use and filled up the car (pens, paper, notebooks, binders, markers, crayons, etc. were just the start -- old educational toys/books/games, a karaoke machine I figured they could use as a loudspeaker, etc., etc., I contacted an elementary school in a nearby, poorer area and offered the lot to them. They welcomed it all. I'm sure any needy school district would do the same. Too many people just throw out things others desperately need. Literally, one man's trash is another's treasure.

  2. Yeah, we teachers love handing out used, old stuff. We know how valued it makes the children feel.

    1. Seriously RS? I hate to tell you but much of the stuff in my house, and that I bought my kids was "used, old stuff" from garage sales, consignment stores, and charity shops -- and we're pretty much upper middle class. (Some of that "old stuff" from my kids is now being played with by my grandchildren!) If something is useable, it's far, far better that it be passed along than being pitched in the trash, where it does no one good, and the earth a lot of harm. Seriously, I doubt any kids care whether something is brand new! I did make sure each and every pen or marker worked. I didn't give anyone trash. It sounds like you have a chip on your shoulder you'd do well to be rid of.

  3. The above comment is a good example of unexamined privilege.

    A significant percentage of the children in the U.S. are desperate. The levels of poverty and food insecurity are shameful. Within the context of basic survival, there isn't a lot of free time and energy to hand-wring about 'used' versus 'new'. Trust me, our children already have a keen understanding of how valued they are in our society. As in, not valued or respected at all. They also know that a used binder is better than no binder.

    If you've never been that desperate, be grateful.

  4. Hey, someone's got to make sacrifices so the US can maintain twice as many aircraft carriers as the rest of the world put together.


    In all seriousness, in respectful response to Chris, I don't think it's unexamined privilege to want to give children new supplies rather than used. I think it's quite the opposite. My somewhat Marxist view is that asking for poor children and their families to accept scavenged school supplies rather than for their teachers to be afforded appropriate budgets is to perpetuate the privilege of the upper and middle classes. The solution to the problems of poverty in this country is not for the people in poverty (and their teachers who may have more privilege) to accept less, it's for them to demand more. We can afford to educate children, but we're busy subsidizing private business interests instead.

    This is compounded by the fact that public schools are budgeted per-community, so where I live there's a school serving upper-middle-class white kids in which every student has a Macbook - which are subsidized for students who cannot afford them. On the other side of town, there's a public school with children who are just as entitled to an education, where they can barely afford a TEXTbook.

    ...And for what it's worth, I have been in poverty - I've been "that desperate," and now I'm a professional social worker who spends a whole lot of time with kids in poverty.

    1. Benjamin, Yes, in a perfect world, schools would all be fully funded and the Air Force would have to hold bake sales to buy a new jet. But we don't live in that world. Right now, either (our underpaid) teachers shell out their own money or kids do without. I'd rather do what I can to help save teachers a few bucks while adding necessary supplies and/or enrichment materials that the kids would have had to do without.

    2. To be very clear - no one is ever WRONG to say that one has to work with what one has. Really, you and Chris are fundamentally correct about the nature of what the real options are on the table. It's something I deal with every day, and one should't put their lives on hold just because we don't have ideal circumstances. I just perceive injustice in these situations, and I believe that injustice can and should be confronted.

      ...But yeah, I'd rather a child have a pencil than no pencil until we can get our larger social priorities in order - but we then actually have to do that. If we settle for every child having a pencil, we're providing de facto support for the inequalities that exist within the system. It's my feeling that based on the unit price of a Tomahawk Cruise Missile as indicated in Wikipedia and the price of number 2 pencils as indicated on Amazon, the purchase of 30,324,324 pencils would likely result in better outcomes, so I'd like to figure out how to make that happen, and I welcome help.

      Seriously, we're all ultimately thinking in the same direction, I'm probably just more hopeless in my utopianism.


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