According to a 2018 study by the National Center for Education Statistics, 94 percent of public teachers spend money on their own classroom supplies without being reimbursed. The average amount spent by that 94 percent was $479 over one school year. Let that sink in. Teachers, who are notoriously underpaid for the insane amount of work they do, are spending almost $500 just so our children have the supplies they need to learn. If you'd rather them worry about teaching our children the three Rs than affording the pencils, you should know how to help teachers with school supplies. They're helping turn your child into a smart, curious, and self-sufficient member of society, so let's give them some of the help they so deserve — and, quite frankly, shouldn't even have to ask for in the first place.
Here's a little story. I used to coach a running team at a local elementary school. One day after practice, as I was packing up my cones and leftover granola bars, I see a teacher dumpster diving in the school parking lot. I went over to see what she was doing, and she responded (as if it was the most obvious thing in the world), "Someone is throwing out these perfectly good marker baskets! It's like Christmas! Free baskets!" Let me just tell you, after witnessing that, my kids' teachers will never be short on organizational baskets. And, by helping our local teachers, we're ultimately helping our kids. It's win-win.
"It’s extremely helpful when parents can help out with basic supplies like pencils, erasers, markers, and even tissues. It’s astonishing how fast my students go through some of those things," Katie Sloat, a fifth grade teacher in Sacramento, California, tells Romper.
One easy way to stock a classroom with extra supplies is by buying double of everything on your child's supply list. Often, you can do a little research and find "buy one, get one free" deals to make this easier on you. By doing this, you're giving supplies that you know for a fact the classroom actually needs. These duplicate supplies can go straight to a child in need, or fill the cabinets of your child's classroom for later use. Easy peasy.
Another way to help out a local teacher is by surprising them with a mid-year supply replenishment. Sarah Seitz, former middle school and high school teacher and current President of The Enrichery, an academic coaching company in Houston, says that timing is everything.
"Around winter break, I’d be out of almost everything — and Christmas time is not exactly the most opportune time to go out and spend a bunch on school supplies. So, I think that parents could really be of help around that time of year," Seitz tells Romper.
What if your child's teacher has told you that she's totally set on supplies — or what if you don't have a child in school at all? Your help is still very much needed. Luckily, you don't need to drive from school to school, trying to locate under-stocked teachers. Websites like DonorsChoose.org and AdoptAClassroom.org are amazing places to donate money that will go to specific classrooms and projects — which you can handpick yourself. Both organizations are 501(c)(3) designated, meaning donations are tax deductible.
For super zealous parents, CreateTheGood.org, a website that helps people connect or even lead volunteer opportunities, has your back. They've provided an incredible toolkit that will walk you through the steps of planning and holding a school supply drive. Talk to other families in the community who might want to help, roll up your sleeves, and you'll be amazed at how many people in the community, if given an easy opportunity, will help.
At the end of the day, any help is appreciated. You don't need to drop off boxes upon boxes of supplies to make a tangible difference. Whether you have an extra $10 or an extra $100, you are helping. However, it's important to use your money wisely by asking teachers what they really need.
"I also think that it is most helpful to ask the teachers specifically what they need instead of randomly buying things. I got a lot of glue sticks as an English teacher, and while they were nice, I really could have used extra vocabulary flashcards," says Seitz to Romper.
Another piece of advice from a teacher? As tempting as it is to save a little bit on budget school supplies, it's actually sometimes better in the long run to get higher quality supplies that will last. The longer supplies last, the less often teachers will be forced to spend their own, hard-earned money to replace things. "The store brand or no name brand pencils break easily and kids will spend so much time sharpening them only to have them break again. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen kids more frustrated over a pencil than multiplication," Sloat says.
So next time you're in Target, grab a pack of notebooks instead of bath bombs, or some pencils instead of those sheet masks that you kinda-sorta-don't-really need. Encourage your friends to do the same, and you've started a chain reaction. It's a simple way to help some of the hardest working members of our communities.