Alice Kunce was elated to start a job as a remedial reading teacher in Arkansas. Then she arrived at her classroom and reality set in:
I walked into a classroom as a remedial reading teacher with zero books in the room and zero bookshelves. My school gave me $200. That's it. I had no working stapler. No hole puncher. One pair of scissors. No trays. I'll stop there. Let's just say that I write my name on a ton of stuff in my room because it comes out of my own pocket.
What's even more shocking is that Alice could be considered one of the lucky ones.
The Harrisburg School District in Pennsylvania made headlines in 2011 when the high school didn't even have enough pencils for students to take a required state exam. Many teachers receive no funding for classroom supplies.
Several online forums have tried to connect donors in America (and abroad) to help provide teachers with basic classroom items.
Reddit Gifts, part of the popular social media platform Reddit, started aiding teachers in 2012. Educators are asked to send the site a short list of what they lack. The most common items? Photocopier paper, whiteboard markers, pencils/crayons/markers, construction paper, and safety scissors for kids.
Donors, mostly other Redditors, are then matched up with a classroom and asked to ship supplies by the end of September. The thank you letters from teachers are illuminating. One wrote:
Thank you so much for choosing to send my students a care package! I teach high school biology in a very low income, inner-city school. My classroom is a place where kids can forget about violence, poverty, crime, and gang activity … Unfortunately, with a $0 budget for supplies, I spent over $1,200 last year so my kids could have good experiences, like dissecting chicken wings in anatomy class because we could not afford to order specimens. I can use ANY school supplies (glue sticks, colored pencils, construction paper, pencils, pens, spiral notebooks) or anything else to make my students have a special experience in high school ... GO MUSTANGS!
That's a lot of emotion over markers and glue sticks. It sounds more like something a teacher from the developing world would write, not the US. But when you speak to teachers like Alice Kunce, you realize that those supplies either would not be in the classroom or would have been bought out of an educator's personal funds.
Reddit Gifts helped about 2,500 classrooms last year at an estimated total value of $150,000. This year's campaign, currently underway, has had over 10,000 requests, including some from other countries.
"We're inspired that we're able to help people, but it's really sad just the basic things that they all need. Eighty percent of these teachers need Clorox wipes, tape, and say 'we're already out of copy paper for the year' [in September]. It's pitiful," says Dan McComas, creator of Reddit Gifts. McComas decided to do the drive for classrooms for free after a teacher friend pointed out the need and suggested the site's exiting code would work well for the new endeavor.
Donors Choose is an even bigger operation trying to aid America's teachers, having generated about $193m in donations for classrooms since the site was founded in 2000. Interestingly, one of the most frequently asked questions the site gets is whether it will expand to other countries (for the record, the answer is no. They still see plenty of need in the US to serve).
"Teachers most often describe themselves as 'engaging'. They want to do more than teach from the textbook," says Melanie Duppins, a former teacher who is now senior director of policy and learning at Donors Choose. That kind of teaching requires supplies.