25-Year-Old Textbooks and Holes in the Ceiling: Inside America’s Public Schools

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Broken laptops, books held together with duct tape, an art teacher who makes watercolors by soaking old markers.

Teacher protests have spread rapidly from West Virginia to Oklahoma, Kentucky and Arizona in recent months. We invited America’s public school educators to show us the conditions that a decade of budget cuts has wrought in their schools.

We heard from 4,200 teachers. Here is a selection of the submissions, condensed and edited for clarity. 

Rio Rico, Ariz.
Michelle Gibbar, teacher at Rio Rico High School
Salary: $43,000 for 20 years of experience

Annual out-of-pocket expenses: $500+

I have 148 students this year. The district skipped textbook adoption for the high school English department, leaving us with 10-year-old class sets, and we do not have enough for students to take them home. Our students deserve better. Our nation deserves better.

As I near retirement age, I realize I will retire at the poverty level. The antiquated myth of the noble, yet poor, teacher must go. I am passionate about my subject and my students. I am not passionate about living paycheck to paycheck. 

Tempe, Ariz.
Jose Coca, teacher at Kyrene Middle School
Salary: $46,000 with 12 years of experience

Annual out-of-pocket expenses: $1,000

The building smells old and dank. There are holes in the ceiling, skylights don’t work, the walls need to be painted, I still use a chalk board, but — more important — my students need new desks and computers.

I can’t speak for other school districts, but mine — in Tempe — can’t get new social studies books for students. Young teachers spend more out of their own pockets because they don’t have supplies stockpiled.

My pay is not keeping up with inflation. I have co-workers leaving midyear, or not renewing their contracts, and I work with a lot of older teachers that have maybe five more years in them. I also work with some who retire and return as workers for a private staffing company.

 
North Las Vegas, Nev.
Kelsey Pavelka, teacher at Wilhelm Elementary
Salary: $33,000 with three years of experience

Annual out-of-pocket expenses: $1,000

I have six laptops for 42 fifth-grade students (in one classroom) with many broken keys and chargers. My students are supposed to use these to prepare for their state test, which requires typing multiple paragraph responses. I crowdfunded to get 10 Chromebooks with all the keys on the keyboard, so they could learn to type on a machine that works.

 
Tennessee
Kathryn Vaughn, art teacher
Salary: $50,000 with 11 years of experience

Annual out-of-pocket expenses: $1,500

I am a public-school teacher in the rural South. I’ve had to become incredibly resourceful with the supplies. Teaching art to about 800 students on a $100-a-year budget is difficult. I do receive some donations from the families at my school, but my school is Title I and the families don’t have a lot to give.

I personally have to work several additional jobs to survive and support my veteran husband. We live in a modest house, I drive a 15-year-old car, and despite all of that, even with my master's degree, some months we are not food secure.

 
Warren, Mich.
Elliot Glaser, media specialist at Warren Mott High School
Salary: $94,000 for 20 years of experience

Annual out-of-pocket expenses: $1,000

I work in a high school in a suburb north of Detroit. We have about 1,650 students, roughly 25 percent of whom are English Language Learners (students new to our country who don’t speak English well or at all).

After two years with no budget at all, this year I was given a little more than $500 for our library. I was able to purchase about 30 books. I am lucky, since our elementary and middle school libraries received no budget at all for the fourth straight year.

 
Guymon, Okla.
Kristina Johnson, teacher at Guymon Central Junior High School
Salary: $44,000 with 20 years of experience and three degrees

Annual out-of-pocket expenses: $1,500 to $2,000

We have nearly 2,000 emergency, untrained teachers in Oklahoma. I have 15-year-old textbooks, wasps living in my ceiling (I killed 8 in one day in January DURING class), broken desks, leaky ceilings, and I had to purchase my own curriculum this year.

My students deserve quality educational experiences. I’d gladly give back my “raise” if only our government would reinstate our core funding.


Providence, R.I.
Rachel Cohen, high-school teacher
Salary: $47,000 with three years of experience

Annual out-of-pocket expenses: $300

My public school is full of dedicated educators and students, but the building dates to 1938 and has barely been renovated. The level of dilapidation is something we’ve all become desensitized to. When I went out to take pictures, I realized how little I notice it on a day-to-day basis.

 
Aurora, Colo.
Abby Cillo, elementary-school teacher
Salary: $48,000

Annual out-of-pocket expenses: $1,200

My third-grade students are in a mobile classroom that is basically a trailer. That’s 25 students in a classroom the size of a hotel room. All of the bathrooms are still in the main building, so my 8- and 9-year-olds have to walk outside unattended unless we stop class to take group bathroom breaks.

Teachers are being made out to be lazy, incompetent and greedy, but school board members, district administrators and superintendents make the most money, while the rest of us are fighting for their crumbs.

I’ve been ready to strike for over a year.


Palacios, Tex.
Beth Etzler, teacher at East Side Intermediate Elementary
Salary: $51,000 for 25 years of experience

Annual out-of-pocket expenses: $2,000

Our classroom budgets have been cut to about $200 per classroom. In our supply closet, it’s rare to find tape and you’ll never find construction paper.

Seeing my classroom would lead people to think things are great because my room is well supplied. It is. By MY paycheck.

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A colleague of David Russell builds tables for his class in Boston. He was recently moved to a room with no furniture.CreditDavid Russell
Boston
David Russell, teacher at McKinley South End Academy
Salary: $110,000 after 30 years at McKinley

Annual out-of-pocket expenses: $1,000+

We are not in as bad condition as in the striking states. We just have old leaky windows, insufficient space and broken-down furniture. I’ve built bookshelves, and every year I paint my classroom.

I did a survey a couple of years ago of the staff at my school about out-of-pocket expenses. With a few months still to go in the year, the survey documented $24,475 of spending, averaging almost $1,000 per person, on everything from books to field trips to class incentives to food.

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Ivonne Rovira and her students in Louisville, Ky., unwrap their new printer, purchased using donations from DonorsChoose.org.CreditIvonne Rovira
Louisville, Ky.
Ivonne Rovira, teacher at Westport Teenage Parent Program
Salary: $53,000 with 13 years of experience

Annual out-of-pocket expenses: $1,400

In Kentucky, we tried everything — calling, emailing, visiting our own legislators, visiting other people’s legislators with political ambitions for higher office, generating so many calls that the 1-800 line was constantly busy for the first time in my recollection.

It was only when legislators faced 10,000 teachers and state workers inside and outside the State Capitol building that they had the fear of God instilled in them. Without our loud, angry presence, the Kentucky budget would have been a disaster for public schools.

I work at Westport Teenage Parent Program (TAPP), an alternative high school in Louisville for pregnant girls and teen moms, part of a network of programs that faced losing $477,000 with the latest cuts.

We have so little money to begin with that the printer I use came through donations from DonorsChoose.org. I buy my students lined paper, pencils, colored paper, markers, crayons, construction paper, you name it.

I’m no different than millions of teachers nationwide.

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