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Teachers sacrificial giving just part of the job
Lathrop Elementary School teachers aide Wendy Rivas explains how the student-incentive program which gives rewards to students for good behavior. Many of the reward items are purchased by teachers out of their own pockets. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

Churches don’t have a monopoly on sacrificial giving. Teachers do it every day, all the time, for their students.

 One survey of 1,200 teachers showed 91 percent of them are regular practitioners. Never mind that they are already scraping the bottom of their fiscal barrels, thanks to comparatively mediocre teacher salaries. They still manage somehow to make out-of-pocket expenses to help enhance their students’ educational experience in the classroom.

“I would say, it is very rare to meet a teacher that doesn’t spend money on their students and their classroom,” said Ken Johnson, a teacher at Golden West Elementary School who advocates for Manteca Unified’s 1,050 elementary and high school teachers as president of the Manteca Educators Association.

“Most of the teachers use their own money to buy the extras they can’t get with state and federal funding. Basic supplies and supplemental materials are available through the school sites, but I know, many teachers go above and beyond buying additional resource materials, incentives, school supplies for students who go without, extra pencils, stickers, charts, etc.,” explained Lathrop Elementary School Principal David Silveira.

While the above survey found 91 percent of the public school teachers interviewed using their own money for the children that they teach, St. Anthony of Padua School Principal Mary Lou Hoffman said, “probably all teachers here buy out of their pockets all the time.” Teachers at the Catholic school do not get paid as much as their public counterparts, making their sacrificial giving even more significant to note.

Those in the above survey reported purchasing not just food and snacks for their students but also personal care items like toothbrushes and soap.

Silveira has seen that same thing happen quite often. 

“Many times, teachers will see a child without lunch money, or a backpack, new shoes, and will go out and get them what they need,” he said.

At the beginning of every school year, when local and national stores are offering big sales on school supplies, Johnson noted that it’s very easy to “pick out which ones are the teachers standing in line.

“They are the ones with 40 each of pencil boxes, notebooks, and boxes of crayons in their shopping carts. I know that to be a fact because that is part of my wife’s shopping list every year. And then some. Social media is ablaze with teachers networking with each other to find the best deals.”

Another study cited by Johnson showed that on average, teachers spend $500 a year of their own money for such out-of-pocket expenses for their students. That’s “a total of $1.6 billion for all of America’s three million teachers. I guess my wife and I are pretty average then,” Johnson concluded.

Just recently, Silveria and his wife Stacie, formerly with Manteca Unified but is now teaching at San Joaquin County Office of Education’s Venture Academy, went to the popular teacher store, Lakeshore, and she spent about $200 on learning games, books, borders, and posters for her classroom. Back when he was in the classroom, the Lathrop School principal said he’s easily spent “$500 or more on my kids or my classroom.”

In fact, Johnson said, “anything you see in a classroom could have been bought by the teacher.”

One example is the classroom of Lathrop Elementary School third-grade teacher Kerry Gilmore. One wall looks like a Hall of Fame display done in a really artistic way. Her students’ faces are “framed” in large three-dimensional floral designs. These floral frames, in turn, are displayed on the wall against an equally colorful and artistic backdrop. In addition to providing the artistic skill that went into the display, she also purchased with her own money all the materials that went into the making of it.

Why do teachers have to spend their own money for their students and classrooms?

For one thing, there’s not enough state and/or federal funds earmarked for such educational needs, Johnson pointed out. A case in point: each teacher in Manteca Unified receives 36 pencils and one box of Kleenex for 34 students from the school district. And that’s for the entire year, Johnson said.

There is a “classroom supply budget” allocated to each teacher in the district via the schools, but that too is a paltry figure. The amount given out varies from one school to another. School principals make the determination as to how much a teacher should receive based on what they need in the classroom for the whole school year. That amount only range from $100 to $250 for the entire year.

 “So, for a class size of 34 students, that will vary from $2 to $7 per student. Now, how many school supplies can a parent buy for $7, let alone $2?” Johnson asked, driving the message home.

In that regard, Johnson points out one other important thing to think about, and that has to do with inflation.

“I’ve been teaching for 32 years, and my supply budget was $250 when I started. But prices go up, don’t they?” he asked with irony.

“We just make do,” was his resigned comment to his own observation.

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Altruistic reasons behind teachers’ sacrificial spending

The real reason, though, behind teachers’ sacrificial spending goes even beyond that. In fact, very few teachers are willing to talk about what they do because they don’t want to be in the spotlight.

“Teachers are a humble lot. That’s why I think my job as president of the local teachers association is to advocate for students and teachers. I think it is important for the public to know that children go off to school every day, and our society and our government would rather prioritize spending $5 billion on a new aircraft carrier than spending that on classroom supplies for every teacher in America for three years,” Johnson noted.

“Teachers do not join the profession to make a lot of money. Our motives are quite different than most people,” he said.

Adding another altruistic dimension to Johnson’s comment, Silveira said, “No one goes into teaching just as a job; they go into it to make a difference. If that’s not the reason, they end up leaving the profession.”

The estimated average annual salary for teachers in the United States, according the National Center for Education (, is about $57,000. However, the numbers vary according to state.