No. 2 pencils and pink erasers. Graphic novels, brain puzzles and three yoga balls.
New school supplies started pouring in after a trending hashtag in July shed light on how much out-of-pocket money K-12 teachers usually spend on sprucing up their classrooms. The campaign, dubbed #ClearTheLists, urged the public to gift educators with items from their Amazon wish lists.
Within about two months, the fundraiser, launched by a Texas elementary school teacher, had caught the attention of more than 200,000 teachers, educators and community members — including dozens from Washington state. One teacher even received a collection of stationary bike pedals to help her squirmy students focus.
It was so exciting to come home to find these boxes waiting for me! These will be great #flexibleseating and movement choices for kids in my class. Thank you to everyone who has helped a teacher #clearthelist #bikepedals pic.twitter.com/AY56DQKRBn
— Ms. Brouillet (@MsBrouillet) August 24, 2019
“It was really heartwarming to know there are people out there who understand how tough it is for an educator to pay for so many things in your own classroom,” said Erin Nishijima, a 5th grade teacher at Hazel Valley Elementary School in Burien’s Highline Public Schools.
Nishijima, 25, just started her third year of teaching and usually spends more than $500 per year on supplies for her students, she said. She’s usually not reimbursed.
She started posting about her Amazon wish list in late August, and in the last few weeks, she’s received more than 20 items, including graphic novels — many featuring characters of color — and packs of colored pencils that come with various skin tones.
“I’m really thankful,” Nishijima said. “My kids have especially been really enjoying the books, because they can actually connect with the characters.”
On average, K-12 public school teachers spend about $459 per year on school supplies, according to a recent analysis by the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank in Washington, D.C., that analyzes U.S. working conditions. Washington teachers shell out slightly more at $464, the report said.
While the state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction doesn’t track teacher expenditures, the state does allocate some funding to school districts for supplies.
For the 2018-19 school year, districts received about $450 per student for curriculum and textbooks, library materials and other supplies — but it’s up to district administrators and school staff how they want to divide that money between schools and what they choose to spend it on.
Many school districts in the state don’t track how much their teachers spend on supplies either.
In some districts, the PTA gives teachers stipends for class supplies. Others pay teachers back for supplies — like Lake Washington School District, which provides up to $2,000 in reimbursements. But many educators still struggle to buy the things their classes need.
“I kind of resigned myself to, ‘This is the way it works,’” said Angela Ensminger, a math teacher at St. Madeleine Sophie Catholic School in Bellevue. “I would get some gifts from parents, but not all parents can afford it.”
Ensminger, who’s been teaching for 17 years, usually doesn’t get reimbursed, but this year she received pencils, glue sticks, LEGO pieces and equipment for the student robotics club she runs — many sent from charitable strangers.
I have no idea who sent this but my students will be grateful! We can build stories for class and use them in Robotics!https://t.co/agzA4CUZ6Y#clearthelist #clearthelistwashington pic.twitter.com/VpqQiVrM3F
— Angela Ensminger (@aensming) August 13, 2019
“I’m just glad the issue has gotten out there and people realize how much teachers are putting into this,” she said.
Although the social media trend has hugely benefited many teachers, some are concerned about its long-term effects.
Jenny Haaland, who also teaches at Hazel Valley, is worried that as the school year progresses, the attention will quickly pass — which would make it tougher on her students.
“Our school district, Highline, is generally low-income,” she said. “It’s an issue of equity. We all deeply believe it’s not OK to shame kids because they can’t afford to bring supplies in.”
It’s her sixth year of teaching and she’s now able to reuse certain supplies, but when she first started she spent about $2,000 a year.
Ramon Rivera, a music teacher and mariachi program director at Wenatchee High School in Wenatchee, is staying optimistic.
He has to be, he said, because his students need guitar strings, microphones and rosin, which is rubbed on a violin bow to produce a clearer sound.
“I do get a classroom budget, and [the school] is very supportive, but I think my students should have everything possible to be successful,” Rivera said. “I’m not doing my job unless I turn over every rock and seek every resource.”