Physical Space

Should You Spend Your Own Money on Classroom Supplies? (Ep. 125)

The Radio Guys tap into the debate on whether you should be spending your own money on supplies for your classroom. And if you are spending your money, how much is too much? Listen as they discuss finding supplies for projects outside the traditional curriculum (4:45), why there is value in spending your own money (11:15), and how art programs stack up in the eyes of administrators (15:30). Full episode transcript below.


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Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This is show is produced by the Art of Education, and I’m your host, Tim Bogatz. All right, ladies and gentlemen, once again, Mr. Andrew McCormick is back on the show. Andrew, how are you?

Andrew: I’m doing great, man. Doing good.

Tim: Awesome, glad to hear it. I love just being able to start off the show with you sitting here, waiting, and it’s great to just dive right into the conversation. Last you were on, we talked about plagiarism, and that kind of shifted into a whole conversation about originality and supporting our kids as they develop skills, all sorts of good stuff. If you guys haven’t listened to that one, go back and check it out. This time we both decided it might be a good idea to talk about teachers spending their own money, because there’s been so much attention lately on how much or I guess how little teachers get paid along with how much money we spend on our classrooms. Just opening it up for you. Are you somebody who spends their own money when it comes to your classroom?

Andrew: I am. I feel guilty about saying that because I wish I was the type of teacher who didn’t because I actually think if you’re having to spend lots and lots of money in their classroom, there might be a couple things wrong. Some of them might be correctable, and some of them might not be correctable. I would love to not have to spend my own money just on the principle, but also like I could use that couple hundred bucks back, but I don’t think that I’m one of the worst cases out there. You know, like when you do your taxes, as a teacher, you can always click the little box that says-

Tim: Yeah, like I spent $250.00.

Andrew: 250.

Tim: Yeah. You either laugh about it, or you cry depending on your mood. Yeah, oh 250. I spent way more than that. Then, you start looking, and you’re like, “Oh my god. I spent way more than that.”

Andrew: Okay. You’re making me feel a lot better then, because I feel like I say I spend 250, and I honestly feel like I’m around there, and I don’t do a great job about keeping receipts sometimes. I do, but then I’m like, yeah, no didn’t spend too much more. Maybe it’s one of those things that might surprise me if I found them all, but I think usually around 250.

Tim: Can I interrupt you real quick?

Andrew: Yeah.

Tim: Don’t admit to cheating on your taxes live on the air.

Andrew: Whatever. Statute of limitations. I mean, I don’t think that I go more than 250, because it’s a this here and a this there. I mean, I’m trying to think how many times I got out and buy supplies. It’s not more than once a month. If I’m going out and buying stuff more than once a month, there might be something like screwy or wrong. I feel like I’m doing a bad job if I’m going out and buying supplies more than once a month. Usually when I do buy supplies, it’s 30, 40 bucks. I don’t know. Maybe that’s a little more than 250. I’m not a math teacher, Tim. Get off my back. Okay.

Tim: Let me ask you though. What do you buy specifically? Are you going out for big tickets items? Are you buying the little annoying things? What are you spending money on?

Andrew: I used to do exclusively the big weird stuff that’s it’s like by the time I fill out a, why do I need this, and get the required signatures, and then I get the purchase order. It’s like, I’m going to go freaking buy it. Right? It’s a speed thing, and they’re weird. They’re like tools or foam when I was doing a lot more STEM stuff.

Tim: Yeah.

Andrew: You know, it’s easy to budget for art supplies because you’re like, I’m an art teacher and here’s the catalog, but it’s like when you want to buy a crap ton of PVC and PVC glue, and a heat gun, it’s like I don’t even know if I can buy that stuff from the normal catalogs and at the same time, and I wasn’t planning on it, but then this idea came up. Screw it, I’m just going to go to hardware store and buy stuff. I’m probably guilty. I bet the majority of the money that I spend on my own for the art room is in the non-traditional realm, like at your hardware stores and like on tools and stuff.

Tim: Okay. That brings me to the next question here. That’s kind of where I am where I feel like I’m out there buying cool things that you don’t order in a traditional catalog. I have the markers I need. I have the paint I need, and I’ll go buy an extra of bottle white if we’re running out, whatever you need to do. I feel like most of the money I spend is because it’s just this stroke of genius inspiration where I’m like, we got to do this. This is going to be amazing. I guess, is that the reason we do that? Is it because you want to do really cool things in your classroom, because you want to give your kids these awesome opportunities, or there is a reason outside of that?

Andrew: It sounds like both of us, that’s the main reason. Every once in a while, you do feel bad when, oh my god, all of our oil pastels are gone because of either poor budgeting or poor classroom management, and kids just beat the heck out of the oil pastels. I’m not above buying stuff like that, but those upset me more because sometimes I think when that happens you’re running into, I work in a district that is not funding art essentials of what we need. Right? That becomes this whole other situation. This is where I think it gets tricky because I’ve been at a district where it was … I was embarrassed by how much money I had and actually how easy it was to go buy stuff. I was just thinking about this the other day when we were planning the show.

I would always $1,000.00 leftover on the table throughout the school year so when big things came up, I could just say, “Hey, I want the credit card. I’m going to go spend some of that money I got left over.” They’re like, “Okay, cool. Here’s the credit card.” Then, I would go and then I’d bring back the receipt. It was easy. Right?

Tim: You realize though that right now they’re teachers literally banding their head against a wall because they don’t have $1,000.00 period.

Andrew: Oh, no. I realize that. Just due to circumstances, I loved that job, and I left that job, and now I’m in a district where it’s like we don’t have glue sticks, and our budget has been spent and there are no glue sticks. When I have to begrudgingly tromp to Walmart and buy $5.00 of glue sticks and $20.00 of glue bottles and a couple pairs of scissors and a hot glue gun. I mean, it pisses me off but at the same time, the teacher heart in me is like, I can’t curtail just the basic level of what an art education program looks like. It’s easy for me … Well, it hurts me, but I can do this. I can say, you know what? I don’t want to do that big crazy project that needs all that PVC. I’m not going to do that. It’s really hard for me to say, “Sorry, guys, we don’t have any scissors,” or, “We don’t have any colored pencils.” You end up buying them.

Here’s where I think it is tricky. Because if you do that year in and year out, the school thinks that your budget is great because you’re basically supplementing the budget. Then, they think, “Well, I don’t hear them complain. I don’t see the quality of their work suffering.” It’s tricky because as a teacher, you almost have to do two things. You have to both go get that stuff, but then you also have to be a squeaky wheel if you can. I tell my students all the time, “Hey, guys, I have two more blending stumps for the next six weeks, and that’s not enough, so you make sure that you tell your parents to call the superintendent and talk about what a poor budget we have.”

I know that some people are hearing that and they’ll like, “You could not do that. You can’t do that.” It’s like, I do, because how else are the administrators going to know that the budget you have is woefully insignificant? Because here’s the thing. Administrators, they don’t listen to teachers for the most part. It’s very easy to zone you out because you’re just a worker for them. You’re an employee. A parent is a constituent, and you start having four, five, six parents start calling. They’d be like, “What’s up with this crappy art budget?” Then, all of a sudden, it’s like, “We better up our art budget.” I think you to play both the short game, which is go out and buy this stuff, but then also the long game, and start advocating for your program with parents, with students. Create fundraisers, be creative with donors choose, Artsonia, something so you can get some more money so you don’t have to keep supplementing the crappy budget.

Tim: Yeah. I think that’s really good advice, and I think those are kind of necessary strategies to really make it work if you don’t have the budget. I feel like everybody listening to this is shaking their head right now and going, “Yup, yup, we do all of that stuff.” I kind of want to go back to something that you said at the beginning of that answer. Talking about how you feel bad if you don’t have the basics that you need. I may be opening myself up to a rant from your end about how our school system works. Why do we feel guilty about not having supplies we need? How crazy it is? How inverted is our thinking that it brings us to the point where we feel guilty if we’re not spending our own money? How are our rooms that underfunded that we have to spend our own money to give kids the kind of education that we want to them to have, and why do we feel guilty about that?

Andrew: Well, I mean, we feel guilty because we’re giving, and we want to provide an experience. We know … As teachers, we know what a quality education looks like, and we know that when our budgets are chopped and cut and pinched and stretched, that we’re not providing that for our students. It’s tough as a giving person to just sit back and be like, “Well, I guess my kids suffer because my district doesn’t support this.” You know that if I just could go out and spend $60.00, $80.00, the next couple projects the next month for all these students would be fantastic. Now, it’d be great if we didn’t have to do that, but I mean, we are caring people, and that’s what we do. Ultimately, I think it comes down to value. I think there’s a lot of people involved in making decisions that don’t value creativity, and they don’t value art education.

Put your money where you mouth is. I think school districts by and large don’t put money in the arts, and I think that that just shows where their values are not. Because I think a lot of them don’t come from an art education background. I think a lot of them don’t see the power of creativity and divergent thought. I think a lot of them come from a more STEM or tech background or coaching background, and that can be frustrating. It’s frustrating when districts pay lip service to innovative thinking and creativity and lifelong learners, and they don’t back that up with what they actually support. You know? I don’t know. It’s frustrating. There’s so many things that the way the schools run that are really, really frustrating. In a weird way, this is going to make me come off as a really grumpy person. Not that long ago, we had Staff Appreciation Week and Go Hug a Teacher Week and all that stuff. I love that. That’s great. I love getting candy in the morning, but you know what I love getting more than candy every morning for a week? Give me some glue sticks. Right?

What if we actually had rather than a PTO that’s like, “We’re going to make you nachos everyday.” Give me supplies. I honestly think that every school district ought to have someone like that who just like, what departments in our building are underserved, and how can I advocate for them financially outside of the realm of how school is normally done, so making connections with business people. Schools talk all the time about making real world connections and reaching out to the community and community partnerships. Very few times do those sort of connections trickle down to the art room. You know what I mean? They trickle down to a new billboard, to new T-shirts for everybody. It’s like, I don’t want another T-shirt that has my school’s name on it. I want to know that I don’t have to go spend $250.00 every year on my art room. You know?

Tim: Yeah, absolutely. I think that, like you said, the advocacy piece come up a couple times now. We need to make people more aware, because I don’t know that everybody out there realizes how many supplies we go through, like how consumable all of our stuff is and everything that we go through. I guess that kind of leads me into my last question. You were talking about all the different subjects, all the different ideas. When it comes to spending our own money, do you think art teachers are worse than teachers in subject areas? Do we spend more than teaches of other subjects? Is there anybody who’s comparable to us?

Andrew: There is no one comparable to us, Tim. We win the prize for spending the most of our money, because, I could see a really cool innovative science curriculum where it’s hands-on and you’re not just learning about science, you’re doing science. I actually think the parallels between science education and art education are pretty strong, but a lot of us see science curriculums and science education as, we’re going to go by the book. Right? The other barrier to science teachers buying a lot of their own supplies is you don’t just drive down to Walmart and buy … I need Boric acid or some crazy chemical stuff or formaldehyde. There’s I think a tougher hurdle for them to spend their money. I also think we are in the eyes of administrators, people who make decisions, we are a low-reward, high-cost endeavor. We are expense.

Tim: Yes.

Andrew: We are stupid expensive, and that’s unfortunately why you see a lot of programs ditch things like darkroom photography. Very few programs have that because it is ridiculously expensive to flush with paper and film and chemicals. Jewelry is becoming tougher and tougher to find because the cost of all those metals goes up and up and up. You could easily have a two or three-person department costing $8,000.00. For an administrator it’s like, “Well, you know, the math department costs $500.00. What the hell?” I get it from their vantage point that the numbers don’t work. Then, I think what art teachers have to do is figure out a way that we can have alternate funding. Right? I know we’re a little older than a lot of our listeners. I’m calling you old. I remember when I took an art class, you had to pay a lab fee. Hey, I want to take print making. That’s great, but you have to pay $35.00. I’d always do that. That’s actually … that’s pretty hinky when it comes to the law. You can’t basically discriminate against people who don’t have means or the ability to pay to take a class.

It’s like if you sign up for this class, but you don’t have the lab fee and you can’t buy the materials, how are you going to get a good grade? Your grade is basically affected by your ability to pay. That’s illegal. That’s unconstitutional, but what do we do all the time for music and other things? We have scholarship programs. Why don’t we still have a lab fee and then if people want to pay the lab fee, they can. If don’t want to pay the lab fee, it’s waived, or we have an opportunity for community businesses to provide a scholarship. That yes, we will pay for the students X amount of lab fees. It’s tricky, man, and I’ve been kind of getting into it this last year. In my district alone, kids who sign up to be in the band pay a fee to have their instruments fixed, but in the art class, we cannot do that for digital cameras or darkroom cameras. Explain that one. Right?

Tim: Yeah.

Andrew: Here’s the difference. Band is an elective, that is an extra-curricular, and they perform outside of school hours, where an art class is a class that they get a grade for. Any time they get a grade, and I’m just like, it’s madness to think about where money goes. We’re going to pivot this conversation. That’s why I actually think everyone out there listening, the longest game, the longest picture to play on this is we as art teachers should all become administrators, and we should be making the decisions about money. Right? That’s really … Imagine if you worked at a school district where the superintendent, the principal were all art teachers, music instructors, these sort of hands-on, PVL, creative types. That would be amazing. I think that they get it, so that’s what we got to do. That’s all. That’s all we got to do.

Tim: I like that. We’ll get started tomorrow I’m sure. Honestly, I think that’s probably a good place to leave it. Andrew, thank you again for coming on. Good to talk to you as always, and hopefully we’ll have you back on soon.

Andrew: Yeah. Thanks, man. Thanks for letting me rant. That’s always fun to do.

Tim: It’s always fun to listen to you. We’ll talk to you soon. Before we take off, I am excited to tell you about our upcoming conference, the Art Ed Now Summer Online Conference on August 2nd. It is the perfect way to get your professional development over the summer. You can join 2,000 other art teachers and see some of the most current and most innovative ideas in the field of art ed that are happening right now. The highlight of course is our featured presenter, contemporary artist, Jen Stark, who we have been telling you about and who you’ve heard on the podcast before. Now, if you’re interested in the conference, you can learn more at, and if you want to register, we have a special code for Art Ed Radio listeners. You can enter YouSave20Now to get $20.00 off the conference. That’s Y-O-U-S-A-V-E-2-0-N-O-W for $20.00 off at check-out. Go to to get registered, and we will see you on August 2nd.

Now, supplies are obviously critical to us being able to do our jobs everyday. It’s of particular concern to art teachers because we have unique supplies and unique classrooms. I’m still open to both sides of the argument as to whether or not we need to be spending our own money. If you’re saying yes, you’re saying we’re going to spend money because we care about our kids, and we want them to have the best opportunities and the best experience in our art room. When you say no, that’s also valid, because you’re saying we need to stop spending our own money. We need to make sure that our districts and our schools are stepping up and providing us the tools we need to create those same opportunities and those same experiences. To be honest, I would love to hear from you about this topic.

Hey, if you’re listening to this and you feel really strongly one way or the other, send me an email. Email address is Just give me your perspective or your experience. I would love to hear your opinion. I really want to see where everyone is on this topic. Then, I’ll just close with a thought, kind of a point to ponder from one of the things that I asked Andrew. Why exactly do we need to spend money, our own money, to feel like our kids are getting the education they need and that they deserve? Are we that beaten down by what’s happened with our budgets for so long that we end up saying that this is the only way, that spending our money is the only way to do that? I guess the most important question that we need to ponder, does it have to be that way?

Art Ed Radio is produced by The Art of Education with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. Send me your thoughts about this topic. Like I said, I want to hear what you have to say about spending money on supplies. Then, go sign up for the conference. Use the discount code, YouSave20Now, and make sure you show up so we can hang out on August 2nd with another couple thousand of our art teacher friends. As always, thank you for listening, and we will talk to you next week.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.