Teaching on a Dime

September 17th, 2010 by Alyssa Giacobbe

How educators can make more out of less.

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

As schools suffer budget cuts, many teachers today are faced with a tough choice: shell out own their own money for “non-essential” supplies like colored pencils, puzzles, and Kleenex, or go without. But fully outfitting your classroom doesn’t have to require spending beyond your means, or even spending at all. We asked a handful of veteran educators for creative ways to bring back some of the extras.

Rope in Mom and Dad.

“Parents are a free, and often under-utilized, resource to teachers,” says Carla Blanton of the National Center for Family Literacy. “Beyond bake sales, parents can bring resources and knowledge into the classroom through activities like Career Day.” Steve Reifman, a third grade teacher in Santa Monica, Calif., and author of 8 Essentials for Empowered Teaching and Learning, calls on parent volunteers nearly every day. “It’s helpful to me, but it’s also encouraging for kids to see their parents value education so much that they want to be in the room, too.”

“Parents are a free, and often under-utilized, resource to teachers,” says Carla Blanton of the National Center for Family Literacy. “Beyond bake sales, parents can bring resources and knowledge into the classroom through activities like Career Day.” Steve Reifman, a third grade teacher in Santa Monica, Calif., and author of 8 Essentials for Empowered Teaching and Learning, calls on parent volunteers nearly every day. “It’s helpful to me, but it’s also encouraging for kids to see their parents value education so much that they want to be in the room, too.”

Go for Goodwill.

“Give your ‘wish list’ to a professional organizer in your area,” suggests Helene Segura, a former teacher-turned-personal organizer in San Antonio, Texas. Professional organizers work with clients who need to part with items; you need items. What’s more, says Segura, clients are often more eager to reorganize if they know unwanted goods will go toward a worthy cause. “My clients love when I take their belongings to schools and non-profits,” says Segura. “Meanwhile, the organizations get supplies they’d otherwise have to pay for. It's win-win.” Go to the National Association of Professional Organizers for a list of professional organizers in your areak.

Mine the Internet.

The web is a goldmine of free content. Developed in part with the National Center for Family Literacy, Verizon Thinkfinity offers free, standards-based content—lesson plans, in-class activities, and more—culled from leading educational organizations, while Curriki allows teachers around the world to share lesson plans. In addition, downloadable podcasts can add easy excitement to a classroom environment; a few teacher favorites include candlelightstories.com, kidscasttv.com, mybabymonsters.com, and codyscuentos.com (classic fairly tales in Spanish). “Storytelling doesn’t require props or materials, special rooms, or set up,” says Norah Dooley, an educator and “professional storyteller” in Somerville, Mass. “And teachers are natural performers.”

Get Moving.

In addition to supply cutbacks, many schools are eliminating physical education, making it more important for teachers to incorporate movement in their lessons. Reifman suggests yoga as an activity that boosts morale and can accommodate kids at all levels of fitness, adding that carpet stores are often willing to donate scraps to teachers to use as mats. Reifman also encourages his third graders to go outside for a “victory lap” around the recess yard after completing a tough assignment or test. Cheaper than stickers—and health-friendlier, too.