Often stories are shared on social and local media about teachers spending their own money to purchase basic school supplies.
Upon seeing these reports I recall my teaching experiences in the Chicago and Sarasota (FL) Public Schools where we experienced this problem. Each year we were given very small budgets for purchasing classroom materials, which meant it was up to teachers to purchase remaining supplies with their own money.
"It's just the way schools work," I recall a veteran teacher conceding.
Many of these stories suggest school districts lack the financial resources to purchase basic items for their educators. Each article typically involves a quote from a leader describing "insufficient school funding."
As a former high school principal and current superintendent I've had the unique opportunity to get an up-close view of how money is prioritized and allocated. This insight has prompted a conclusion that flies in the face of conventional wisdom: Most districts have the funds to purchase basic school supplies for their teachers.
Let me be clear: The money distributed to public schools could always be better. Schools everywhere would welcome greater financial support with open arms. However, the reality is most districts have the resources to purchase essential supplies.
Money is not the problem.
Prioritizing money is the problem.
Let's take a step back and think about human needs.
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs reminds us that people are motivated to fulfill "basic needs" before moving on to other, more advanced needs. In the context of schools, one could make a case that school supplies are among the most essential necessities.
Another piece of research supporting the concept of meeting basic employee needs comes from Gallup's Elements of Great Managing research. For management to be effective, all employees should "have the materials and equipment to do their work right." Leaders who are unable to provide employees with basic necessities create an environment of disengagement, poor morale, and high turnover.
To clarify, "basic needs" does not mean laminating machines for every teacher or 3D printers for every student. Rather, I'm talking about fundamental supplies and equipment needed for a classroom to operate. Examples of these items are as follows:
Pens, Pencils, Whiteboard Markers: An ample stock of these supplies are a must for any classroom.
Tape, Glue, Scissors, Staplers: Another classroom "staple," teachers at every level require these materials.
Storage Bins, Shelves, Tubs: Classroom organization is critical and these items are must-haves.
Letter Trays, Paper Organizers: Teachers keep paper organized and separated with these products.
Hooks, Clips, Magnets, Fasteners: These supplies can always be put to good use in a classroom.
Kleenex, Antibacterial Wipes, Hand Sanitizer: Health items are no-longer optional in schools.
Post-it Notes, Notecards: Essential for labeling and remembering important tasks that need to be done.
Bulletin Board Sets: All staff should be given supplies to make their classrooms warm and welcoming.
Laptop, Projector, Speakers: No teacher should be without these basic classroom technologies.
Teaching is a demanding profession. As school leaders, we must explore every opportunity to remove barriers for staff and place them in the best position to be successful. Purchasing the supplies listed above is a great place to start.
In our district we are getting better at allocating funds for teachers to meet these needs. We have created a mindset where it is the responsibility of the school - not the teacher - to purchase basic supplies. When new teachers begin they are told not to worry about purchasing basic classroom necessities. The last thing recent college graduates should worry about is shelling out hundreds of dollars for school supplies before receiving their first paycheck.
While we aren't quite at a level where everyone takes advantage of this opportunity, our employees appreciate knowing their essential needs are being met. By purchasing basic supplies, we are giving teachers an opportunity to focus on what is most important: Kids.
Leaders who suggest there is no money in school budgets for basic teacher school supplies are making schools look bad.
While there will always be a need for more funding, to suggest teachers have no option but to purchase these items on their own is not accurate.