Why do so many school district leave it to teachers or parents to fund basic classroom necessities?

So the thing is that this is a “half-truth” – the perception that districts don’t fund teachers – that goes from “half” to “full” truth across the course of a year… but since it doesn’t start that way, there’s very little impetus for change.

Generally a district either gives a teacher a package of stuff at the start of the year, or they give the school an allotment of stuff, often kept in the school vault (Yes, every school has a secured room somewhere in it – see? You’d be surprised how many things about education you don’t know!) and in theory, handed out to the teachers, although more often, hoarded for the office staff and handed out to office staff favorites on request. But let’s think idealistically and assume that the allotment is either given straight to teachers or distributed on need. That DOES happen more than you’d expect, and so y’know, let’s work with that. Saves us some case-specificity.

That allotment that we’re given? For the most frugal teachers, it might last until Thanksgiving. For the more profligate, material-using teachers (especially in the lower grades), it won’t last anywhere near this long. Think of it this way. You’re about to cross the Atacama Desert. I’m funding your expedition. Here’s your water supplies:

There! Five whole glasses! You’re good to go!

….what? You can’t say that I didn’t fund you! Those are five perfectly good glasses of water! I did my part!

What do you mean I didn’t give you enough? Look. If you stretch that, you’ll be fine. I’ve got to give several other expeditions water, too. The Sahara group is constantly complaining at me. And we’ve been told there’ll be less water next year, so you’re going to have to find a way to make it work.

…and so it goes. Since you’re not a fool, and you want to get through the trip, you’re going to buy your own water supplies, pool water resources with other people, beg, borrow, and steal water where you can, and so on. You WILL make it work. You really don’t have any choice – failure is unthinkable.

And since, as the funder of the expedition, I know that you’ll find a way to make it work, I don’t have much motivation to change my own behavior, do I? Because I did fund you, after all, and you did find a way to make things work, because I never heard about you dying. So I’m fine with this arrangement.

The problem is that, eventually, you get the debacles like we’re seeing in Oklahoma writ large, in Chicago urban elementaries, and so on. “Making it work” is very much a matter of opinion, and sooner or later, teachers look across that desert and decide that they’re done making the trip.

…now if you’ll excuse me, I really am about to head to the store to pick some things up I’ll need later today. Gotta make things work, right?

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