Many Employees Pay into Their Careers

There’s already been much talk about the Providence Journal‘s front-page story about teachers’ paying out of pocket for classroom supplies. It’s a story we’ve heard and a discussion we’ve had before.
And it’s not a tale unique to teachers. As a carpenter, I could rewrite this complaint in terms of my trade:

“When I walked into my classroom for the first time there was nothing in it besides the basic furniture, everything else had to be purchased by me,” said Tessa Cooney, a newly hired teacher at Wakefield Hills Elementary School in West Warwick. “As a new teacher, I was unaware of how much money I needed to put into my own classroom. I never knew I would be purchasing books to stock a library in my room. It has been overwhelming and incredibly expensive.”

It wouldn’t be far off the mark to state that I averaged $10,000 of investments in tools and supplies for each of my first three years as a carpenter (on beginning pay of $12 per hour), and I continue to invest in tools, equipment, and disposable items like saw blades and health and safety gear for the reason that Central Falls teacher Pam Barnes expresses here:

“The school districts know we’re going to go out and buy this stuff, because we can’t get along without it,” she said. “It’s not that we’re happy to do this, but we’re resolved to do this, because it makes it easier for us to teach.”

One could argue that paper, pencils, crayons, and the like are not comparable to my professional expenditures, but other costs of teaching are clearly parallel, such as classroom decorations, books, and other educational tools. In a perfect world of which I hear rumors, from time to time, contractors would keep their employees well appointed, stocked up with items that they might need on any given day, but until we’ve found that promised land, most of us will have to take ownership of our careers.
As for public school teachers, Marc probably puts his finger on the pulse of a growing majority of Rhode Islanders when he wonders why our nation-leading education expenditures don’t provide supplies. As far as I’m concerned, that purchasing is already built into the teachers’ salaries.

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14 years ago

Well one difference between Justin’s situation and a teacher’s is a town can have the teacher teach 3rd grade one year and 10th grade the next. Many of those supplies they purchase are consumables and some aren’t really applicable between many grades. That’s like you buying tools to be a carpenter and then the next year your boss tells you that you’re now a plumber. You’d need new tools again.
That being said, the way that the teachers and schools could compromise on this is in the contract negotiations, change the health insurance buyout, which is usually around $5,000. Change that down to $1,000 and use the remainder for supplies. Then the entire union body will benefit at the cost of very few.

14 years ago

You know I’m a public school teacher Justin, and I am generally on your side. I believe the unions and bureaucracy are the significant problems in public education.
With that in mind, I found this post to be way off the mark. Yes, you need to buy expensive tools to be a carpenter. That’s part of the initial investment in your profession. Teachers invest in five or six years of education, and continue to invest in education as their tools of the trade. I regularly buy professional texts to learn more, and better my practice. I pay to attend professional conferences and workshops for the same purpose. I should.
When you build a structure, you don’t pay for the materials. You figure that into the amount of the job. The party that contracted you pays for the materials. The contractor determines the profit after the cost of the materials are figured in.
I could go on and on about how much I spend on my classroom. I won’t. I’m not complaining. But it seems ridiculous that teachers should have to buy pencils, crayons, paper, folders, books, and the like for 25 students as part of their salaries.
I know your argument will be that teachers get too much. But this post is petty, and adds to the idea that you are anti-teacher. Teachers should not be responsible for buying classroom supplies. How much they should be paid is another argument.
I must tell you that I’ve been disappointed lately. The liberal RI blog is all about the unions and the teachers, and this blog seems all about the taxpayers. It mirrors the entire debate. It’s the children that don’t have strong advocates. I’m working on that.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
14 years ago

It has been standard for generations that tradespeople, plumbers, carpenters, toolmakers, etc, buy their own tools. SO it has been with the professions, lawyers buy their books (or software now), doctors and dentists are the same. Teachers are no longer “poor but secure”. From the figures I see, I believe their average income is now above lawyers. Or why would all those lawyers be fighting and scrapping for those 35K public defender jobs.
Everything changes, particularly when the well goes dry.

14 years ago

ah, Warrington,
You would also change, and probably quite drastically if your well ran dry. Your life would revolve around next week’s rent, medicine and medical care for self and kin and basic necessities. I don’t think that these things are a major part of your every day concerns.

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