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The Teacher Funded Classroom

It's not a great time to be a teacher in Ontario - we're fighting for the future of a publicly funded quality education amid a storm of misinformation. While I can't combat all of the misinformation floating around in the media and on social media, I can share a little bit of my own personal truth as a teacher. Contrary to the stance I see taken by a great number of keyboard warriors on social media platforms - I care about my students. A lot. 

As you know by the name of this blog, I teach full day kindergarten (FDK) in Ontario, Canada. The FDK program is "play-based" - which means I set out educational provocations for the children to play, learn and explore in a structured and well documented environment. It is NOT a free-for-all, which is a common misconception. I spend my nights thinking of new and exciting ways to get my students interested in mathematics, science, literacy and the arts - and I spend much of my paycheque bringing that to life. Here are two comparative pictures of the "building center" area of my classroom...


The shelves brimming with toys and materials... well, those toys and materials were bought by me. Anything you see in the bottom photos, that is what was supplied to me upon opening my kindergarten classroom. Technically, the large basket shouldn't even be there, as that was bought by my former teaching partner, but you get the idea. In our extremely crowded FDK classrooms (sometimes there are 30+ three to five year olds jammed in there), I'm curious to know how we are expected to run an enriching program with a small bin of blocks, and half a set of large wooden blocks. The fact is, I couldn't run the program I was expected to, and so I set about scouring garage sales and visiting toy sales to ensure I am giving our students the play-based environment they deserve. 

The play-based philosophy also lends itself to the mathematics and literacy based parts of the FDK program... the intention is to use less worksheets and more hands-on manipulatives and activities. And that's a great idea, don't get me wrong. But again, who is funding it? Below are my shelves full of my literacy and math materials...

It looks great, right? It is, I use these materials daily to ensure my students are learning letter sounds, sight words, patterning, shapes, addition... the list goes on. I took out what I have personally purchased (and again, the bins and baskets should technically be taken out as well since I made many a trip to Dollarama to buy them), and here is what is left. 


To be honest, a few of those items weren't even purchased for my room, but a retiring teacher gave me some extra materials she no longer needed. It's not just toys and learning materials, let's compare the teacher funded bookshelf vs. a government funded bookshelf, shall we?



Take a wild guess as to who bought all of these books? Yup, me. Now to be fair, a few were given to me by teachers moving up in grades, but this shelf is the result of me going to book sales, using buy and sell groups or purchasing through Scholastic. Now imagine how many books I've had to purchase in order to change up our books every few weeks depending on seasons, holidays or inquiries. 

The FDK program is also "inquiry-based". I personally love the inquiry model, as it means we try to follow the interests of the students for maximum engagement. The problem is, we receive very little (if any) funding for resources or materials for all of these inquiries. In fact, there are almost no resources given for any kind of programming in FDK. Throughout my eight years in kindergarten, I have been collecting, purchasing and now spending countless hours creating print resources and activities to use in my classroom. The following is a picture of all of the print resources I have bought or created in order to run an enriching program - and above all of those binders you see a number of bins full of craft supplies, and above that you can see a number of tissue boxes...

Now, here is a picture of this same space in my classroom - filled with what was provided to me. 

Note that even the tissue boxes are gone. We don't even get tissue for our little ones. That's it. This one little binder. We used to have a mathematics resource, but we were told not to use it anymore. What's even more sad is that there is actually a second shelving unit beside this one, that is equally empty once I take out everything I have purchased. 

The thing is, these are only a few areas of my classroom. There are my art areas, sensory areas, dramatic play areas that I am not showing - all almost exclusively funded by me alone. If you were to wander into the "cubby" area of my room, you'd see wall to wall shelves that look like this:




I know it isn't the prettiest thing to look at, but here are the materials for inquiries that I have purchased, collected and created. Inquiries that I am expected to run - and I do, but they are completely funded by me. I mean, it's kind of crazy, right? I wouldn't go to a fancy restaurant and see the tableware to be a bunch of mismatched dishes and cutlery that the culinary-school trained chefs had to bring in from home. Or another example, my son broke his elbow last week - could you imagine how horrified I would have been if the doctor had started to make him some kind of papier mache cast because he wasn't given proper supplies? But that's what teachers are expected to do, daily. 

I'm not some kind of anomaly, most teachers, ECEs and EAs that I have encountered are doing this. We don't typically broadcast it, we just do it because we want our students to enjoy their time with us, we do it because our job is to TEACH - and we will find a way to do it. 

What you see here doesn't include the snacks I keep in room for the students that never have enough food to eat, you don't see that clothes I've bought for students because they were coming to school in the same pair of pants everyday, you don't see the Christmas presents I've bought for students and quietly given to parents so that their child can come back from Christmas break and talk about what was waiting for them under the tree with their classmates. And like I said, I'm not some angel. I'm not alone in this. Teachers are doing these things in every school in Ontario, because we care. A LOT.

So when you hear that the teachers are so lucky because of our hours (I get to work at least an hour early each day to ensure that my room is ready for my students, and then I stay up countless hours at night working on resources and planning for my students once my own kids get to bed, not to mention the lunches I give up to coach a number of teams), please remember that's not what our fight is about. 

When you hear we get 2 months paid vacation (we're only paid for 10 months and it is spread out over the course of 12... and many of us are in the building prepping for the next year throughout the summer or working at home on things for the coming year - but yes we get a nice break to enjoy our families and I'm fairly certain not one of us has ever complained about that), please remember that's not what our fight is about. 

When you hear that its just about teachers wanting a raise (we are qualified professionals who went through at 5 to 6 years of post-secondary education followed by numerous additional courses to add to our qualifications, and I'm still unsure as to why us being compensated fairly as other professionals are is always such an issue), please remember that's not what our fight is about. 

This fight is about funding - for the classrooms. For the many, many students we teach with varying needs and abilities. FOR THE KIDS. My classroom, like many others, would be sad and sparse if I didn't fund it. I know this is my take, but I know I'm not alone in how I as an educator feel. Classrooms are given so little, and even more is at stake. That is what my fight is about. 


Comments

  1. This is just so compelling. I’ve spent thousands over my career as a middle school teacher both on classroom materials but also as a cheer coach. Because I need to if I want to provide anywhere close to what is expected or what I want for my kids. Thank you for your candour.

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    1. PS i too am an Ontario teacher 💖

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    2. Thank you for the work you do, too! We do it because we love the kids, regardless of what the public may think.

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  2. I wish more people could read your blog. Your classroom comparisons are an eye opener. I've explained to "A" what is going on, but reading this has given me more information for a better explanation. We support teachers!!

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    1. Thank you so much for your support, it is truly appreciated!

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  3. Thank you for this. I am also an Ontario kindergarten teacher, and my experience is almost identical. As a single parent of three kids I couldn't ever spend as much on classroom materials as I wanted. I have mostly resorted to free or nearly free items that I could scrounge however possible, from parent donations, thrift store purchases, reuse/recycle boards, and even dumpster diving on occasion. I once even took materials out of someone's garbage while taking my class on a community walk! While this fits with my personal philosophy of reducing consumption, sometimes it would be nice to just be provided with supplies, and not to have to work so hard to find things we need. It would be nice to have a steady supply of regularly used items, like pencils and glue, and not to have to try to make two months' worth last the whole year. The public has no idea how much teachers have to work just to run a decent program, and how just about all of it comes out of our own pockets.

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    1. Thank you for doing all that you do for the kids! I too have gone dumpster diving on occasion, it's a sad reality, but we do our best.

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  4. At Christmas, my daughter and a group of other moms gave their children’s teacher a gift of money for her to buy supplies for her classroom . She was overwhelmed by their generosity.

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    1. That is truly such an incredible gift, and I'm sure it went a long way. N

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  5. **says she's for the children but strikes and abandons her children for a higher wage** everyone sees right through you teachers, this is a joke

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    1. You're entitled to your opinion. My point was to try and educate people who share your thinking that this only has to do with a 1% pay increase. There are SO many reasons beyond that, and I only touched on one. Strike action is happening whether I want it to or not. I'm fighting to keep the current kindergarten staffing model, so that I can stay with my students and continue to provide them with the classroom environment I show here. You and I (whoever you may be, unknown) will not see eye to eye on this, but let's keep it respectful.

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    2. Basically, you're saying that you shouldn't be paying for these supplies...I should.

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    3. Maybe what she's actually saying is that the money taxpayers are paying should be properly used for school supplies. Why is it that people fixate on MORE money instead of proper spending? You could spend $5 on a pre-made lunch or use the same $5 to buy a lot more food from a grocery store and make more than one meal. This is the same idea. We pay enough in taxes that there should be plenty of money for everything we need as a society, if it were managed right.

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    4. If you are able to "see through teachers" you might want to start putting away any extra dollars. Privatization of education will have YOU taking on directly paying for the "extras" . Public education needs to be supported and our teachers need to be supported! You might want to rethink what you wish for.

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  6. As a retired Kindergarten teacher of 30 years, I am so pleased to hear you mention the play based programme! So many teachers who try Kindergarten after teaching another grade, fill the day with paper, pencil activities. I even knew a teacher that sent homework at the end of the day! Like you, I visited garage sales to stock my classroom, and donated my children's toys once they outgrew them. My kids complained that I spent more on classroom supplies then on them. My classroom had a microwave, fridge, love seat, etc., all bought second hand. Upon retirement, I held a garage sale in my classroom and sold things from seasonal jewelry and costumes, cookie cutters for playdough, toys, books, theme
    based kits, etc. By the way, I often would return to the classroom to work in the evenings or on weekends.

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    1. Thank you for all that you did for your students, I'm sure your classroom was a magical place for them! And thank you for the support!

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  7. Wonderful article. Thank you for sharing and for all you do. xx

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  8. As a mother and mother in law of kindergarten teachers in Ontario, I feel this is a very compelling and accurate account of the classroom and what the teachers do to make the education of their students as enriching as possible. Well written!

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  9. What is wrong with sharing the load with teachers? They are teaching and taking care of your kids while you're working and get compensated fairly. You don't have to spend a dime on office supplies while teachers have to spend on books and other supplies. I have two young kids of my own so I understand and appreciate what the teachers have done for my kids. Teachers are entitled to be compensated fairly too while not having to worry about funding supplies for our kids.

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  10. I finally got a chance to read this. A colleague sent it to me. I love that you were so candid and shared. I was (I retired in January) a FSL teacher and the resources provided to me by the school board were useless for the most part. I bought hundreds of dollars in resources that I needed to give my students the best possible chance to learn French. The board (Ontario) that I worked for had little to no respect for FSL teachers and pd was almost non existent or done in English. The board is loosing its French teachers because of this. I am glad that I am done. Good luck to you!

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