Imagine if your office required you to use a computer, paper, pens, and various other supplies to do your job but did not provide them. Take that a step further and consider what it would be like if you had to reach into your own pocket to pay for the office supplies needed for meetings.

It's hard to picture because it's generally understood that your employer should provide whatever supplies and tools you need to do your job. That's not the reality most teachers deal with. Instead, 99% of K-12 teachers spend their own money on supplies for their classrooms, according to the sixth annual teacher shopping survey from SheerID, a company that does online verification for promotions (like proving someone who claims to be a teacher or student actually is one) and Agile Education Marketing.

A teacher and a young student.

Nearly all teachers spend their own money on classroom supplies. Image source: Getty Images.

How much are teachers spending?

Teachers reported spending money on everything from science kits and art supplies to snacks. Almost all the teachers surveyed (97%) said that budget shortfalls have a negative impact on students. To offset that, nearly all teachers (99%) said they have reached into their own pockets to cover shortfalls:

  • 80% have spent $100 more in a school year to support their teaching needs
  • 48% have spent more than $250
  • 15% have spent more than $500

"Being a teacher sometimes means spending your own money," Mallory Speers, a sixth-grade science teacher in southern Washington, whose school provides a $70 annual budget for classroom supplies for 90 students, said in a press release. "It's important to me to create a comfortable and engaging place that will help my students learn and have memorable experiences."

Teachers are clearly willing to spend their own money, but they are careful about how they spend it. Almost all of those surveyed (95%) said they are more likely to buy classroom supplies from companies that give teachers a discount. Eighty-one percent feel the same way even when it comes to buying items for themselves.

"The message to brands is clear -- educators want to be recognized and feel valued. Those brands that heed the call set themselves up to win the business of this important customer group, and they have a direct impact in classrooms by giving educators what they need to teach our children," said SheerID CEO Jake Weatherly. 

What can you do?

There's clearly an opportunity here for companies to market to teachers by offering them a discount. That's a narrow tightrope to walk because brands don't want to be seen as profiting from teachers' reaching into their own pockets to pay for school supplies.

Parents and members of the community can help in a number of ways. The first would be to vote for more school funding. That, of course, is not always possible, and it's generally too late for this school year.

If a political solution is not possible, the community should pitch in. A local small business might consider ordering some extra supplies and donating them. Parents should, if they can afford it, either buy supplies directly or drop off gift cards to alleviate the pain for teachers.

These are relatively small sums when spread out across a community. Teachers should not have to spend their own money on classroom necessities. A community can make sure that does not happen by being aware of these needs and taking steps to fill them so teachers don't have to.