Friday, August 12, 2016

Begging for free stuff

Let's be honest, teachers are beggars. We have to be.

There are a wide variety of different school situations out there with different funding situations. You may have a one to one device classroom and everything you want (and I might kind of hate you ... not really, but kind of). Or you may have to supply everything yourself for your students. No matter your situation, you have probably at some point asked someone for something for your classroom. Even though you are coming from a good place it can be a little uncomfortable to beg for money or supplies. You get better at it with time, and as you learn about more resources. So here are a few resources and suggestions to help you on your way:

  • Back to school time is the season for donations and generous families. The advantage to asking for donations of money or materials this time of year is that literally everybody is doing it. Families are donating to art and the PTA and education funds and buying school supplies etc. This could also be a disadvantage as families feel overwhelmed and financially taxed. 

  • So how can you still get stuff and families still get to eat? (And if you think that is hyperbola think about how many children in California qualify for free and reduced lunch.) One key is to ask for stuff not money. Our department has a common donation request letter that explains why we need the money (duh) and asks for $20. The back of the letter is filled with stuff that we would love to take. Sometimes parents have unique connections to get us these materials for us. Things we ask for: scrap wood, tools, holiday lights, plastic utensils, mini fridges, toilet paper tubes, hand soap, paper, pencils, etc. One year a parent worked for Dow and gave us enough hand soap to last the Chemistry teachers for years. I tell students that if they can't donate money I would love for them to grab an extra ream of paper or if they have a spare toaster to take apart I'm happy. 

  • Getting to know your students and their families can also open doors. Take advantage of unique resources from families. My TAs used to help block out my windows for our light unit by covering the windows with black garbage bags. One TA got half way through the job and said "I have something better for this. I'll finish it tomorrow." He came back the next day with black posterboard that had been laminiated and fit to cut to size for each of my windows. Turns out his dad owned a print shop. It didn't cost the family much but for me it was priceless.

  • Crowd source your needs. If you have not used before I highly recommend it. I have gotten several thousand dollars worth of materials through Donors Choose donors over the years. When you create an account you have a certain number of points and larger projects require more points but most projects are only worth two or three. I have had local businesses and anonymous donors fund my projects as well as people from across the country. I have a link to my Donors Choose page at the bottom of my emails and on my class website. If the project is of particular high need (as in without it we aren't completing a popular project this year) then I may send out an email to my students and their families asking them to help spread the word. Some teachers also share projects via their own social media sources.
    GoFundMe is another crowd source option that does have an education section. GoFundMe is not education specific and can be used for a variety of things.

  • Know what you want. Dean Baird told me as a new teacher to keep a folder with my wishlist. He suggested we rip the pages right out of the catalogs with what we wanted circled and just toss it into a folder. "Sometimes," he said, "there is extra money that just has to be spent that day. Be the one that has their list together so that you're the one to take advantage." Turns out, he was right. My second or third year I had a lot of English Learners in my class and was asked to attend a training day to learn some strategies to help them. While there I talked a lot with one of the leads of the program who asked if there was material he could order that would help his students learn better in my class. Someone was actually asking for that list Dean made me keep! And I had it ready. 

  • Ask, and you shall receive. It seems so obvious but it is true. Asking for whatever you need is at least the first step to getting it. For years I wanted a bowling ball to make a bowling ball pendulum of my very own. I finally decided I wanted one bad enough to ask. I wrote a very formal letter (on letterhead even) explaining the many uses I had for one bowling ball in my classroom, included my contact information and mailed it to a local bowling alley. About a week later I got a call "Hey, you asked for a bowling ball? For a science class?" I eagerly agreed. "Ummm, do you want twelve?" As I explained in my bowling ball post, I took them. Another time I needed a few pieces of scrap glass for a Mohs hardness test so I asked a local hardware store for broken glass they might have laying around. They obliged, after I explained why I needed shards of glass. There is a "Sale" section of Home Depot's lumber department which has wood at a discount. If its not labeled, and you play the teacher card, it might be even cheaper. (not an official policy)

  • Recycle! Reuse! I've already said I'm a hoarder but because I hoard I don't have to repurchase. Some examples: the base wood for my Rube Goldberg project is reused year to year after the machines have been removed; the magnet and magnet wire in my "Make A Speaker" lab are unwound and used again and again; brads and paper clips from my Electric Building Project are ripped from student projects and kept for the next year.  I even make TAs cut out the used pages of notebooks if half or more is still blank and keep them in reserve.

  • Make it yourself. There are a few demos or classroom tools that you can make yourself instead of purchasing. If you have the know how and are inclines to do so DIY it!
There isn't much in the field of teaching that is easy, but much gets easier with practice. So if there are things that you want for your students, try asking for others before spending your own money. Don't worry, I'm sure you'll still spend hundreds of dollars as a teacher over the course of your career so you don't have to feel guilty. ;)

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