The moment I knew

I have a love/hate relationship with crowdfunding for the classroom.

I love that I can fundraise and buy supplies for my students.

I hate that some administrators view crowdfunding as financial absolution for providing the things teachers need to run their classrooms. 

For example – during my second year teaching at a charter school, I asked an administrator if they would purchase a diagnostic testing kit that would help me differentiate instruction. The kit cost $100.

“Yeah… I don’t think we can afford that,” they said to me. “Why don’t you try crowdfunding it?”

“That’s not how crowdfunding works,” I began cautiously, “You can’t post projects that…”

“Maybe next year then,” the administrator shrugged unapologetically.

Seeing no other options, I walked back to my classroom and ordered the testing kit using my own credit card. It didn’t fully sink in how wrong this was until a year later.

My classroom has had a moderately active crowdfunding presence for a while now, and I’ve had several small projects funded. As my students were writing thank you notes for a recently-funded project one day, one of my most remarkably average students abruptly pushed away from his desk, rocked his chair onto its two back legs, calmly set down his pencil, and asked me pointedly, “Why do we have to do this?”

Unmussed, I explained that we were writing thank you notes to the people who had donated money on a crowdfunding page for us to buy supplies.

“You mean to tell me,” he started slowly, a defiant glimmer in his eye, “We go to the best charter school in the city and we can’t afford the supplies we need for your class?”

“That’s exactly what I’m telling you,” I nodded soberly.

The student was incensed. “How is that fair?!” he snapped, “We should be able to afford the supplies we need! You shouldn’t have to get strangers on the internet to give us money just so that we can have the stuff we need for class.”

“Dude, shut UP,” groaned his friend from across the room, clearly annoyed with the student’s antics. “It’s not worth it, you’re just going to get yourself in trouble.”

“If he gets in trouble, it won’t be from me,” I sighed. “He’s exactly right. We should be able to afford this stuff, but we can’t. And it’s not fair.” The student smirked, satisfied that I had both agreed with and defended him and returned to diligently coloring his thank you note.

I sank into my desk chair, feeling a ripcord pulled somewhere deep within my psyche. A slow, burning, anger rose through my chest, not at the student who had challenged me, but at an education system that prioritizes one zip code over another. At a district that has approved so many new charter schools that there are not enough tax dollars and students to go around. I was angry at myself for being complicit in a system that treats schools that serve students of color differently than schools that serve a white majority. How is that fair? It’s not. It’s not fair that teachers are left to buy or crowdsource their own classroom essentials, and it’s not fair that students have to sit and write thank you notes for being given the things they should have had in the first place, that children in more affluent schools have in abundance, and would never be asked to say thank you for. It was at that moment that I knew that I could no longer be silent, that I could no longer sit idly by. It was at that moment that I knew that I would become unchartered.

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