Last week I spent thirty dollars on lab supplies. I don't do that every week, but it isn't particularly unusual either. Then there's the big package of dry erase markers I bought on Halloween, the ink for my classroom printer since the monthly copy limit is so low, the pad of chart paper for my anatomy students' presentations, the tickets for my incentive system, the seemingly endless stream of pens that I hand out to kids who can't be bothered to bring them (I've given up lending them after my administration told me I wasn't allowed to request collateral; if I'm not getting the pens back anyway, I might as well be the nice teacher who is always happy to provide pen and paper when you forget .), more staples for the stapler so I can update the student work on my wall of fame, and so forth and so maddeningly on.
I should probably just let it go and accept that this is what teachers do, but I'm feeling a wee bit frustrated today. The department meeting where I found out that we still don't have textbooks or half of the required lab supplies for the AP Bio course that started in August, the district cut everything the science department requested out of our budget for some federal money we're receiving, and the school board's decided to budget $0 for consumable supplies like dry erase markers, graph paper, staples, and tape for secondary classrooms for the year. Maybe the frustration stems partly from the fact all this is happening when the new superintendent and assistant superintendent each got a $50,000 SUV as part of their contracts.
Don't get me wrong: I can afford the to buy basics for my classroom myself. I can and have done things like writing Donors Choose grant proposals to get somethings I couldn't otherwise afford. It isn't a huge burden. Still, I wonder how teaching compares to other careers.
The boy had to have some of his own tools back when he was an apprentice electrician, but they certainly didn't expect him to provide his own wire and nails. My engineer dad has pretty much everything supplied for him, as does my pizzeria assistant manager mom. I don't know enough about the day to day of that many other careers.
I can somewhat grudgingly admit there are a lot of pluses to my job as well. I didn't have to go $200,000 in debt to get the education to get this job. My commute is under ten minutes. Unless I happen to feel like wearing a suit, my usual uniform of slacks and a sweater works just fine. I have more freedom than others to pick my own schedule in the summers. Maybe our society has done the calculations and decided it balances out.
Or maybe they think of teaching as noble work, something we should be glad to do for no compensation. After all, in addition to the satisfaction of helping shape the next generation, we get the joy of working with all of the wonderful little kiddos, a group that consists not only of the truly terrific teens(and there are many) for whom I stay after school to tutor, coach quiz bowl, and help with college applications, but also the kids who've just gotten out of juvy, jail, or a behavioral facility, who threw flaming toilet paper rolls and raw eggs at the algebra teacher last year, who'll walk down the hallway with their pants sagging, tell you, "Fuck you!" when you tell them to fix their uniforms, and then harrass you about the suspension they received when they see you in the grocery store, who hit one of my friends in the head with a rock today while he was trying to break up a fight. I'm doing my best to respect, believe in, win over, and educate all of the students, no matter how challenging, but, some days, I do not love my job.