Teacher Appreciation Is in Deficit, Let’s Not Make It Worse

Teachers have it bad enough already, so why are some school districts cutting off much-needed additional resources for classrooms?

The unprecedented number of teacher strikes across the country in recent months is the culmination of years of growing frustration among teachers. Salaries have stagnated relative to other professions; funding for classroom resources has been cut; class sizes are growing; and the percentage of public school students living in poverty has increased steadily in recent years, putting schools and teachers in the position of having to provide things for students that families cannot.

As Executive Director of AdoptAClassroom.org, a national nonprofit that helps educators get the classroom supplies they need for their students, I hear frustration and anger from teachers every day as many increasingly feel that they have no choice but to leave a profession that they love. And teachers are leaving – at a rate of eight percent per year. Enrollment is dropping for teacher training programs. Plus we have an increased demand for teachers due to population growth. The U.S. is wrestling with a serious teacher shortage that is only expected to grow in coming years.

Most teachers who stay in the profession do so because they genuinely love teaching. They stay in spite of a significant “teacher pay penalty” – the gap between what teachers are paid versus what other jobs requiring similar qualifications pay. That gap hit an all-time high of 15.1 percent for women and 26.8 percent for men, according to a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute. The gap is greater for teachers just starting their careers, and for teachers in low-income schools who earn less than teachers in high-income schools.

They also stay in spite of the fact that teaching has become a “pay to play” profession. A 2018 survey of more than 4,400 teachers conducted by AdoptAClassroom.org found that 96 percent spent their own money on basic supplies for their classrooms. The average amount spent by teachers out of pocket was $740 annually, which was an increase of 23 percent since we last surveyed teachers in 2015. Twenty-eight percent of teachers surveyed spent more than $1,000 per year, an increase of more than 30 percent since 2015.

To ease the burden on their already strained finances, many teachers turn to crowdfunding to raise money for the classroom supplies they need to do their jobs. But now, some school districts are severely restricting, or even outright banning, crowdfunding by teachers. Why are some districts effectively “cutting teachers off at the knees” by preventing them from getting the resources they need to teach? School districts do have legitimate concerns about some crowdfunding companies that make a profit from cash payments of donated dollars given directly to individuals. These sites do not provide accountability to donors or to schools regarding what the donated funds are actually spent on.

AdoptAClassroom.org provides accountability to both donors and schools, and ensure that funds are spent only on classroom supplies and materials that are delivered directly to schools.

Teacher Appreciation Week may be over, but you can always show teachers that you appreciate them by making a contribution to classrooms. Speak up to stop school boards from cutting teachers off from these valuable and trusted organizations that enable teachers to access resources from individuals and businesses in their communities. This is no time to be cutting our nation’s teachers off at the knees.

Ann Ruhr Pifer is Executive Director of AdoptAClassroom.org, a national 501(c)3 based in Minneapolis, MN. She received her B.A. in Economics from Smith College in Northampton, MA, and her M.A. in International Economics and Latin American Studies from Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C.

Interested in supporting a classroom in your community? Find and donate to a teacher or school here.