MEA member Virginia Weichert would like to start using flexible seating in her St. Clair County special education classroom. Her students with cognitive impairments enjoy activities more when they are not confined to desks, she says.
But Weichert also has basic school supplies to purchase with her own money, and she can’t afford to buy all of the alternative seating choices she wants. So she made a wish list and shared it on social media as part of the trending #clearthelists #clearthelist #clearthelistMI and #clearthelistsmichigan movement.
“I would love to get yoga balls, video game chairs, bean bags, and other alternative seating, but no matter what I plan on making this a great year!” she said.
Third-year Texas teacher Courtney Jones started “Support a Teacher” on Facebook as a way for educators to share Amazon wish lists for gifting. The idea and multiple hashtags spread to Twitter and Instagram, joined by nearly a quarter-million educators across the country.
Plymouth-Canton elementary teacher Chris Hammond tweeted a wish list asking for help buying lock boxes to create an “escape classroom” in which students use course content to solve clues and unlock the box.
“I plan on using this activity to help build excitement in learning and to pull in the reluctant learners,” he said.
As students and staff prepared to return to school in recent weeks, the viral gifting movement was featured in state and national news media, including NBC’s Today show, as a way for the public to support teachers.
At the same time, some educators are using the viral campaign to heighten awareness about the extent and unfairness of teachers shelling out their own money to do their jobs. Educators spend on average nearly $500 per year on classroom supplies, equipment, and furniture.
“While it is nice people want to help, their tax $ should fund classroom supplies,” tweeted Troy middle school math teacher Jennifer Smith. She continued:
“This story doesn’t make me feel good. It’s sad, really. MI legislature has been shorting education for years—teachers have to literally beg for the tools they need to do their jobs.
“Ever see an engineer begging for post-it notes or software?”
Despite those frustrations, Smith tweeted her wish list.
Reached for comment, she added, “Why is it OK for teachers to be spending their modest salary on what should be funded by a society that values education and students’ experiences in schools?”
Warren Woods science teacher Todd Bloch also tweeted his wish list that includes equipment to teach coding with drones. But then he wrote a blog post questioning the equity of a gift-based school supply system, concluding: “After helping a teacher by sending supplies, it is time to help schools get funding for these supplies by voting.”
Utica teacher Leanne Wolney tweeted a picture of self-bought materials with her wish list: “This is one TINY part of my classroom. The brown book case was provided. Everything else I bought. Every game, book bin, book, poster, border, manipulative, vacuum, even the trampoline on the edge – was paid by me. And I’d do it again. #clearthelistMI”
Michigan ranked second among 20 states where teachers spend the most out-of-pocket on school supplies, according to a state-by-state review of tax data released earlier this month by the online news source Insider.
And in a twist of irony that reveals the big-hearted nature of teachers, many of those tweeting out wish lists were simultaneously buying supplies for others.
MEA member Briona McKinney, an ASD teacher consultant in Birmingham Public Schools, says she bought items for three people – a special education teacher she didn’t know, a colleague who’s an inspiration, and a first-year teacher who needed a welcome to the family.
“How many teachers are buying things for other teachers?” McKinney tweeted with three crying-laughing emojis and a GIF of the character Pam from the television show The Office raising her hand. It’s hard to resist the good feeling of making someone’s day, many tweeted in reply.
Two MEA member educators elected to state office last November recently introduced legislation to reduce some of the burden on teachers. House Bills 4824 and 4825 would exempt certain school supplies and clothing from state sales and use taxes on every third Saturday in August.
State Reps. Nate Shannon (D-Sterling Heights) and Matt Koleszar (D-Plymouth) are proposing the annual tax holiday because over time the burden of such costs have been shifted from schools to teachers and now families, Shannon said.
“Despite a modest salary, teachers are spending an increasing portion of their own money on classroom supplies every year,” Koleszar added. “While we must continue to work toward paying our teachers what they truly deserve, this bill will provide a small step toward much-needed relief for educators who continually put the needs of their students above their own.”
MEA member Rebecca Setera is one of those educators who went over-budget buying school supplies this year, including some gifts for colleagues on Twitter. The Capac special education teacher tweeted a thank you thread with pictures of wish list supplies she received from donors.
“I am one grateful teacher right now!” she tweeted on Aug. 7 of two books she got in the mail. And last Saturday – the final weekend before the start of school – she tweeted appreciation to an anonymous donor for inspirational wall decals with a photo of them in place.
“My Sensory Room is coming together! Thanks!!! #clearthelistsMichigan @support a teach”