First-year educator Stephanie Connell briefly paused and held her head in her hands to contain the overwhelm she felt while shopping in the New Teacher Store at Rochester Community Schools a few days before school started this year.
The high school English teacher and new MEA member could take what she wanted from a room crowded with items donated by Rochester EA members: books, games, manipulatives, art supplies, posters, office supplies, bulletin board materials, storage containers, and more.
“I don’t want to be wasteful,” she said. “I’m trying to stop and think and save things for other people, because I know how big this burden is.”
The New Teacher Store was started this year by Jenny Schneider, the Rochester Education Association Secretary and a kindergarten teacher, as a way to welcome the district’s newly hired teachers into MEA and to help them see the union as a caring community.
“I want them to know the union is not just there for your legal rights or to fight for a good contract. They’re there to support you; it’s your support system.”
She unveiled the store at the district’s new hire orientation. Anyone who joined MEA could shop for free for as many items as they needed—all donated by teachers in the district. “Teachers remember what it’s like starting out, and they have that heart,” Schneider said.
Connell had been out shopping garage sales, second-hand stores and Facebook Marketplace for flexible seating for her classroom. Now she was filling a box with books, supplies, and storage bins. She still needed to purchase a box fan or two, and already she had spent $637 out of pocket.
Schneider borrowed the idea from an NEA Leadership Conference she attended last summer. She held two spring drop-off days to gather donations and secured space from the district. She spent about 20 hours gathering, moving, and sorting materials, some of which was brand new.
First-year social studies teacher Nicholas Reed was grateful to find materials he was planning to buy—history and geography materials and storage bins. “This is better than Christmas!” he said.
Jamie Rabaut, an elementary speech and language pathologist, shrieked at the sight of one discovery in a crowded corner of the store. “Oh my gosh, white boards!” she cried.
“Jamie—wait! How many?” replied her friend and fellow speech and language pathologist, Courtney Batten.
The two friends bantered about finding supplies in the style of tributes from the dystopian novel . Later, Rabaut explained she had already spent about $800 buying materials to address the wide variety of speech and language disorders she will encounter in her work.
Mini whiteboards were an especially good find. “For non-verbal children, these are good for language tasks and visually representing language.”
Schneider opened for one more day before the space had to be cleared. Already she was planning for next year, hoping for a bigger room to allow for furniture donations.
“It’s nice to be able to say to the new teachers you’re not walking into an empty classroom, and you’re not alone. Your school is supporting you, your colleagues are supporting you, and we’re a welcoming community.”