As summer ends and kids trod off back to school, parents expect to shell out substantial amounts of cash for school supplies and clothes for the coming year.
But teachers — especially young, first-time teachers — are buying hundreds of dollars worth of supplies for classrooms out of their own pockets.
"I have no problem doing it because kids do so much better in an environment where they are engaged and enjoy being there," said Claudia Amendola, a third grade teacher from Hamilton who works for the Halton Catholic District School Board. "But most people don't know we have to do this."
Amendola is teaching the third grade for the first time this year, so she has to outfit her classroom from scratch. "It was a blank canvas I got." She has spent over $700 so far, "and I'm about to go out and buy some stuff I forgot," she laughed.
Schools in Ontario do provide their teachers with some funds to purchase things like paper and supplies, and extras are not officially mandatory. Just what is covered and by how much can vary from school to school. Neither the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board nor the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board responded to requests regarding their specific policies.
But the costs can quickly add up. Things like books, scrap bins, charts, art on the walls, construction paper, decorations for holidays and other odds and ends usually aren't provided or paid for.
'You really need to have something engaging on the walls that they can read when they zone out.' —Claudia Amendola, teacher
"As a kid, you think all of those things just happen," said a support staff teacher from Hamilton who asked that her name not be used. "Pretty much anything fun, you have to buy yourself."
She says she spent "easily" around $1,000 dollars out of her own pocket last year for supplies for her art, drama and music courses in three different schools.
"Now, could we teach just with what we've been given? Absolutely," she said. "But teachers want their students to be happy."
One teacher who works in Georgetown — asking not to have her name used for fear of what people in the school board might say — told CBC Hamilton that she has been scouring garage sales for toys for her students.
The 26-year-old kindergarten teacher is heading into the first year in her own classroom, and was given a $100 Wal-Mart gift card to offset costs. She has so far spent $250 of her own money as well.
"It's just one of those things, especially when you're a new teacher," she said, lamenting that it can be difficult when dealing with student loans at the same time.
But the pressure to buy lots of supplies for a classroom doesn't come so much from the school itself, but from parents, she says. She says any parent that comes into a kindergarten class and sees bare walls would not be happy. "It's not so much the expectation of the school, but it is the expectation of the parents," she said.
There is some peer pressure from other teachers too, Amendola says. "In elementary, especially the younger years, teachers notice what their colleagues are doing and do it themselves," she said.
The needs wane as in higher grades though, she says. High school classrooms don't tend to be as decked out as earlier grades because high-schoolers (theoretically) have a better attention span.
"You really need to have something engaging on the walls that they can read when they zone out," Amendola laughed.