Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Money Question

If you google "classroom design" or "classroom decor" you'll see interesting things that teachers do with their classroom spaces.  A number of teachers in my district are really trying to change their spaces.  The question that comes into my mind is, "Who paid for all of this?" 

Some teachers have sofas, shelving, lighting, professional artwork, coffee tables, easy chairs, rocking chairs, carpet, window treatments, wall paper, pillows, room dividers, book racks, etc.  These kinds of things, 95% of the time are paid for out of teachers' pockets.  Sometimes they are donated, and sometimes, they are paid for by school funds. 

I have a friend who has put over a couple of grand into her classroom over the last couple of years, and that does not included books or regular teaching supplies.  All of it was self funded.  Some teachers I know submit their receipts to the office and get some of their money back.  Do other professions pay for the materials and tools they use on their work site?  Don't get me wrong; I don't pay for everything, but I do pay for things that might surprise people: almost all of my classroom library books (some were donated),  storage bins, labels, professional books, all of my games and puzzles, spare notebooks, my pet supplies, Mothers and Fathers Day gifts my students give to their parents, spare gym clothes for kids, special resources or materials when the supplied ones don't do the job adequately (especially when you have a variety of ability levels in your class), etc.  And that does not include the money I spent on my design project. 
When it comes to paying for things in terms of classroom design, I'm not sure what to think because there are so many factors: 
  • Like teaching, classroom design is highly individualistic.  One classroom design might work for one teacher, but it may not work for another.  I know that when I have TOCs/supply teachers/substitutes in my classroom, some of them like my format and others are absolutely bewildered, ("Where do the students sit? ... On those?!  Where do they put their things? ... You're kidding me! etc.). 
  • If the school pays for all of the things that I put toward design, then those things, in all fairness, belong to the school.  It is the same if I buy materials for my classroom through school funds, then I will leave those resources behind if I ever switch schools.  But on the other hand, if some teacher decides say to decorate their classroom in a gorilla theme, do we really want them to leave behind their rainforest backdrops, vines and banana trees?  Apart from the storage issues alone, how practical is it for schools to hang on to these things?
  • Because schools do pay for classroom furniture, they tend to buy many of the same items.  This makes short term economic sense because of the discounts afforded by buying in bulk.  But it does not make great educational sense because schools tend to buy furniture that perpetuates the antiquated factory-model of education (sit down, shut up, and do your work).  It is akin to making expensive repairs or keeping up the maintenance on your horse and buggy, even though a bicycle or car would do the job better. 
  • Ideally, the school and the teacher would mutually agree on what the teacher would need for his or her classroom, and then say the district would coordinate the purchase so that if teachers in multiple schools wanted the same things, then they could take advantage of bulk purchasing. 
  • In the UK and Australia, they have had this massive project called BSF or Building Schools for the Future.  It was a national program where they invested in schools by creating sound educational environments within existing schools or even building new schools.  The chances of this happening in my area are probably slim to none, but it's nice to see what other jurisdictions are doing. 
I guess the best I can hope for is the "slush fund" model.  Schools, through parent fund-raising or other sources, give each teacher a pool of discretionary funds (I have received between $100 and $200), and it truly is discretionary: do what you think you need to do with this money.  Use it for your classroom guilt free.  Oddly though, I don't think I've ever submitted a single receipt for anything related to classroom design.  Until this moment, I think that because it was my pet project, I've used my discretionary funds for other classroom materials.  That might change.

No comments:

Post a Comment