One of the issues that came to light with the months of job action that just ended was how much teachers subsidize the education system. Many teachers have shared photos of how bare their rooms look when they remove all of the supplies that they’ve purchased with their own money – with no reimbursement or tax credit.
With the exposure of how much money teachers are actually contributing to their classes, there has come a call for us to stop. For teachers to stop supporting a system that isn’t supporting them. For us to refuse to spend our own money on supplies for our classes. For teachers to work only with what we’re provided.
And I appreciate the sentiment behind the initiative. I agree that showing how little is actually in a room can be an effective visual, and that it illustrates just how much teachers prop up our public education system.
But today, I packed my fifth box of supplies to move into my classroom.
I’ve already taken two in. I’ll haul three more up to the third floor tomorrow. And I’ll add another four or so by the end of the week.
Because it’s not just stuff.
Who I am as a teacher is in those boxes.
Yes, I could teach Shakespeare without decorating my room with posters that encourage creativity. I don’t need to display ticket stubs and pictures that help me teach literary terms by using real world anecdotes. I could rely only on the questions in textbooks and not bother with interactive teaching techniques found in my own professional library.
But I don’t want to.
And, sure, I could teach verb conjugation using only a whiteboard and marker. I don’t need to help kinesthetic learners by developing dice games, or cater to visual learners by colour coding parts of speech with Popsicle sticks. I could teach exactly at the textbook tells me to – even if it bores me.
But I won’t.
I’ve bought posters and decorations because I find bland rooms unwelcoming. Sterile. And I don’t want to spend my days in a room that doesn’t stimulate or motivate me. I doubt my students would like to, either.
And sometimes, the things that I’ve bought help me to save time, allowing me to focus on the bigger picture and keep my workload manageable. Other times, I’ve bought things to help me stay organized. Still others, I’ve bought supplies for creative lessons that I don’t have to do, but that I know my students will enjoy.
Really, I’ve purchased my own supplies because they make me a better teacher.
So, while I understand the motivation behind living in a bare space to show how inadequate current education funding is, I won’t do it.
Because supplies aren’t just there to fill a room or make it look pretty. Every item that I bring into my room is there for a purpose, whether it’s to create a friendly space, encourage communication, help students learn, or keep me organized so I can be at my best.
Yes, I’ve bought the materials in the boxes that I’ll be hauling to work each day this week. And yes, I sincerely wish that I hadn’t had to go out of pocket to make sure that my students get the best education that I can give them. But I don’t want to teach without my boxes and boxes of stuff. Because the way I teach is tied to those items.
And the underfunding of public education in BC has already taken enough out of me.
I refuse to let it take who I am as a teacher, too.