One of my charities of choice is my own classroom. I find that I am spending more and more money each year on classroom learning and teaching mostly because it is almost impossible to order supplies that I need to teach well. Why is this true?
First the main ordering time of the year is the last month of school which is the busiest, most tired month of the year for teachers and students. Amongst all the other end-of-year tasks, we have to hunt through catalogues and lists to order what we need. Those lists and catalogues are not nearly as good as the online sites like Amazon for ordering so it takes a long time and often you end up with materials that don't match your expectations. For example I ordered a number of notebooks that looked really good, but I didn't notice the fine print which essentially said that what you see is not what you'll get, hence the notebooks were not valuable. I didn't return them as that would take hours more, hours I didn't have when the notebooks arrived at the busy start of school.
Ordering materials takes a lot of time. First there are the hours of advocacy to prove you need the materials. Then there's the purchase order process and the wait for the materials. I can use Amazon or other online sites to order materials that meet classroom needs and get those materials in a day or two. Yes, it costs me my personal money, but it saves me tremendous time and grief with regard to the ordering process. So sometimes, as a professional educator, it's worth it to me to spend my own money to support a higher quality teaching program with the materials I need, then to spend hours debating and waiting for materials.
Fortunately our PTO offers us a few dollars for materials with some process, but not the onerous process that the system requires. I am grateful for this. We have a local grant source, but that requires substantial approval from administration and a lengthy process too. I typically use that for something new and innovative and put in the extra time with my colleagues to make it happen. We generally choose a project we're excited about and one that needs less approval than more. The ideas that require substantial approval are often too time-consuming and troublesome to pursue.
Of course, I wish that purchasing systems were more streamlined and easy to use. I always use the example of the architecture firm I worked at who had a purchasing agent that was at-your-service. When you needed something, he would make sure you had it sooner than later. It was awesome. He as the firm's "Amazon."
So teachers have tough decisions to make. If it's a year when you don't have the extra money, you make do with what you have. If it's a year where you can spare a few extra dollars, you may be able to purchase some items that will uplift your classroom and learning experiences.
I am a big fan of structure, role, and schedule renovation in schools to make schools more modern. As part of this, I'm a fan of updating purchasing systems so that so systems better support educators and enable us to get the materials we need in timely ways that are supported by school system budgets rather than our own bank accounts. I'm sure I'm not the only educator who feels this way. Onward.