A recent UFT survey showed that teachers spend an average of $500 of their own money each year purchasing supplies for their students. As a new teacher, you know that it’s easily possible to spend two or three times that amount — and with a Teacher’s Choice allotment of just $57, you may find that your supply reserve is running low as you approach the spring vacation.
Fortunately, it’s possible to fill in the gaps without emptying your own wallet — as long as you know where to look. Here are some of the best money-saving tips from veteran teachers.
Apply for a grant. In each issue of the New York Teacher, the Grants, Awards and Freebies column lists current stipends available to educators — everything from a $24,000 award for teachers seeking to improve their understanding and appreciation of mathematics to the chance to win a wireless lab for your school. Kindergarten teacher Helen Rogosin, whose classroom at PS 110 in Manhattan has benefited from almost 30 grants, advises applicants: “Keep in mind your audience, what your big idea is and how many students will benefit.”
The UFT’s national affiliate, the American Federation of Teachers, maintains a funding database on its website. You can search by selecting from options in six different categories, including grade level and subject area.
Similarly, the National Education Association, with which the UFT is also affiliated, sponsors its own foundation that offers grants to educators. On its website, click on Grants and Events in the upper right corner and you’ll see a list of options.
Got donors? Teachers rave about DonorsChoose.org, an online charity organization that connects teachers hoping to fund a specific project with average citizens looking to donate. “I have received many thousands of dollars of supplies, technology and furniture,” says Kathleen Nolan-Kasal, who teaches at PS/IS 266 in Queens. Ruth Agosto-Pritscher, a prekindergarten teacher at PS 84 in Brooklyn, advises sharing your DonorsChoose fundraising link with your students’ parents, who will, in turn, pass it on to their own families and friends.
Take advantage of free materials. Numerous organizations recycle or “upcycle” gently used materials. “Materials for the Arts is amazing,” says Lisa Beringer Orsini, a teacher at PS 134 in Manhattan. A division of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs housed in a warehouse in Long Island City, Materials for the Arts distributes free arts supplies to public school teachers.
If it’s books you need, Project Cicero is an annual book drive that has distributed more than 2 million books to teachers in New York City public schools with more than 50 percent of students receiving free lunch. Register online at Project Cicero (unfortunately, this year’s event has already passed) and show up with a suitcase to collect as many books as you can!
Know where to shop. Many teachers advise loading up on school supplies in the summer, when stores have back-to-school sales and offer discounts to teachers. But besides brick-and-mortar retail shops, “check out church, community or block sales,” says Patricia Leonforte Minerva, a teacher at PS 90 in Queens. “Once many people hear you are a teacher, they often give you a lot for less than they were asking for.”
Get creative. Inventive teachers have come up with myriad ways of getting and using supplies. “I have gotten pens, notepads and more from parents who work in doctors’ offices and ask for donations,” says Tracy Shannon, a teacher at Pathways to Graduation HS in Queens. Michael Scherer, a social studies teacher at Franklin Roosevelt HS in Brooklyn, decorates his bulletin boards with pictures from “discounted calendars with [geographical or architectural] themes, to create a historical and geographic aesthetic.” Christopher Lettieri, a science teacher at Mott Hall Community School in the Bronx, has created reusable DIY dry erase boards using clear sheet protectors.
There’s no substitute for generous funding, but when it comes to making the most out of your supplies, a little resourcefulness goes a long way.