THE ONE MILLION DOLLAR WEEKEND

“The exodus of teachers from the classroom is a crisis,” said Sharon McMahon, an influential Instagramer and Podcaster also known as “America’s Government Teacher.”

She gained this nickname by endeavoring to share non-partisan historical and political facts during the 2020 election on her Instagram page called “Sharon says so.” In addition to clarifying political misconceptions, McMahon also sheds light on the challenges of being a schoolteacher in America.

A joint survey conducted in part by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence showed that teachers primarily felt anxiety and fear while teaching during the pandemic specifically. This may seem to be a cause and effect of remote COVID learning limitations, but the 2017 pre-pandemic survey results were not that different.  

“The top five emotions were: frustrated, overwhelmed, stressed, tired and happy,” the survey read. “The primary source of their frustration and stress pertained to not feeling supported by their administration around challenges related to meeting all of their students’ learning needs, high-stakes testing, an ever-changing curriculum and work/life balance.”

To ease the emotional and financial burden for teachers, McMahon decided to hold a teacher grant fundraiser in mid-July this year. Amazingly, doners raised over one million dollars in a single weekend. The money was then distributed in the amount of $500 grants to over 2,500 teachers nationwide.

“We cannot care about children without caring for teachers. We have to care about both. We cannot say we care about kids, we care about the wellbeing of kids without also caring for the people who teach them,” McMahon said.

TEACHERS’ OUT-OF-POCKET EXPENSES

In Idaho, starting level teachers begin at $13–$20 per hour on average. This may seem reasonable until factoring in that teachers function not only as educators but as organizers, custodians, emotional supporters, discipliners — not to mention living piggy banks.

According to adoptaclassroom.org, “Teachers spent an average of $750 on school supplies out of pocket during the 2020-2021 school year. The highest amount ever.”

Teachers can write off some of these expenses on their taxes; however, according to an article called “What Can Teachers Write off on their Taxes,” the IRS only allows teachers to claim up to $250 worth of non-reimbursed expenses.

Meanwhile, school districts keep supplying teachers with the bare bones for learning like a classroom, desks, chalk board, white board, and projector, but these are hardly the things that make learning memorable for students.

“It’s not to say that students can’t learn in that environment. They can, and some do. But, we do know that a warm environment, an environment in which children want to be, an environment in which they feel safe and secure, doesn’t look and feel like a prison,” McMahon said.

Colorful posters, art supplies, books, organizational cubbies, assorted writing utensils, and materials for hands-on classroom activities contribute to a productive place to learn. While some might still argue that these investments are unnecessary, McMahon puts the situation into perspective for those outside the teaching scene.

“Could we all just live in a concrete room with a window and a sleeping bag? We could, but do we want to? Are those the conditions under which we are the best people we can be? Most people would say, ‘No’,” McMahon said.

One of the other problems with teachers using their own money to curate classroom experiences is that the learning materials they obtain are often geared toward a certain age group or grade level. If and when that same teacher is required by the school to move grades, a significant amount of their resources become obsolete.

“A veteran teacher will often spend thousands of dollars over the years amassing things like classroom libraries, resources, flexible seating in their classrooms, science experiment supplies, things along those natures…That then becomes very challenging if a teacher is ever reassigned to teach a different grade level…The materials that you have that you’ve spent your own money on over the years are no longer applicable. Your first-grade materials don’t work for fifth graders” McMahon said.

Interestingly, teachers also invest a significant amount of money in food for students. Imagine trying to remember your grammar lesson with the constant pang of hunger in your belly. Food is indefinitely related to effective learning.

As you can see, teachers are in desperate need of community support, but some districts frown upon a big way educators have kept from paying classroom costs out of pocket — crowdfunding.

COMPLEXITIES OF CROWDFUNDING

Crowdfunding is an umbrella term used to describe the compilation of funds from many donors toward a specific cause. It usually takes place through online platforms with many people giving small donations to reach a goal amount.

According to Idaho Ed News, “Hundreds of teachers across the state are using platforms like DonorsChooseAmazon Wish ListGoFundMe and AdoptAClassroom.org to raise thousands of dollars for their classrooms. Crowdfunding has proven to be successful among teachers — they’re getting supplies quickly, without spending their own money.”

Though crowdfunding does offer many teachers other options to out-of-pocket costs, the battle is not over.

“We’ve heard from a variety of teachers that their district has a policy that forbids teachers from posting things like Amazon Wish Lists…The reasons that might be true are varied but a lot of it has to do with wanting to control public perception. They don’t want the public to feel like we under-resource our teachers,” McMahon explained.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Madison County is renewing its school levy on August 30th. The $1.995 million levy budget is funded and voted for by citizens of a given school district as additional financial support for school-related efforts. Voting for the levy means $4.25 per $1,000 of taxable assessed value will be applied towards resources like the ones listed below.

According to the Madison School District website, “Districts often use levy funds to hire additional staff, or for student programming and services that are underfunded or not funded by the state. Some of the many things that levies help to fund may include: extracurricular activities, special education, transportation, food service, operations, grounds and maintenance, preschool, and other activities.”

Madison School District Superintendent Randy Lords is confident that the levy will enable the districts to thrive and continue to provide for local educational needs like security, technology, renovations, Madison Cares Mental Health Programs, and teachers’ benefits.

Some people have opposed the levy approval on Facebook by citing city budget figures, but Lords said the money referred to has already been allocated for other important expenses.

“There’s a chart put out there of our June financial sheet, and it’s been highlighted that the district has over 24 million dollars that we have and we’re just sitting on. Really what we have is a couple times a year when we have to make big payments towards a bond payment, towards construction costs, so we have that money set aside knowing that these two or three payments are coming due,” he said.

Superintendent Lords wanted to emphasize that having a levy vote also prevents the school district board from calling for an emergency levy when school funds deplete around August each year. 

McMahon’s suggestions for making a difference in teachers’ lives included voting for candidates who actively support education, attending a school board meeting, donating supplies to a local teacher, or providing school materials to a child in need.

“I like to say, do for one person what you wish you could do for everybody. Do for one teacher what you wish you could do for all the teachers. Do for one child what you wish you could do for all,” she said.

For those who cannot contribute to this issue financially, she encouraged them to send a kind email to their child’s teacher. For teachers, knowing that their students are enjoying their learning experience is a great motivator.

“Nobody’s asking you as an individual to fix every single one of the ills of American education. No one person can fix it all, but that shouldn’t stop us from trying to do something,” McMahon said.