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Teachers spend hundreds out-of-pocket on students

PHOENIX — The new school year is underway and that means hard work for the students and faculty, but it also means a lot of out-of-pocket expenses for teachers.

For teachers such as Julianne Jennings, a seventh grade instructor at Abraham Lincoln Traditional School near 39th and Peoria avenues, the start of the year has already brought between $500 and $700 in expenses.

She said that is an expensive way to begin the year but that spending her own money on students is simply a reality of being a teacher.

“We need to have a working society and someone has to step up and say, ‘Hey, someone needs to be here,'” she said. “There are a lot of great teachers that leave the education field because they can’t sustain a family, because they have to be on food stamps, because they decided to have kids.”

According to the National Education Association, the average national starting salary for teachers was $36,141, while in Arizona that number was just over $31,600.

Adding hundreds of dollars in expenses every school year on top of their salary can place extra stress on teachers, according to first grade instructor Vicki Reddick, a single mother.

Reddick also teaches at Abraham Lincoln Traditional School and said she’ll make dozens of trips to dollar stores this year to buy supplies, such as folders and glue sticks, for her students.

However, she said it’s not just supplies that teachers often pay for.

“I go out and buy a bunch of stickers and each kid gets stickers, but those stickers are from my pocket,” Reddick said. “I have to refill my treasure chest, which the kids work for various things and they get stuff out of the chest.”

Reddick also said she pays for books toward her classroom library and most of the decorations in her classroom.

Compared to many schools in Arizona and across the country, Abraham Lincoln Traditional School is unique in that the school’s parent-teacher organization, known as the Guild, offers some reimbursement for their teacher’s expenses.

“We allow them $150 in start-up requests,” said Chris Learned, president of the Guild. “They submit receipts and a form and we’ll go ahead and cut them a check for the reimbursement of those expenses.”

Even though the total for reimbursement was raised $50 this school year, for many of the teachers at Abraham Lincoln Traditional School, it’s still not enough.

Reddick said while prize boxes, colorful calendars and classroom decorations might seem secondary, they are essential in getting kids interested and excited about school.

“That’s what a good teacher does,” she said. “You also need to have a classroom that is stimulating to your students. If you didn’t have the posters or the color in your room, it’s not stimulating for a first grader to come to class.”