WEST FARGO — Amber Tostenson, a first-grade teacher at Brooks Harbor Elementary, spent about $700 to $800 on classroom supplies last year.
You’d be surprised how much teachers spend, Tostenson said. They need supplies for students, snacks, breakfast bars and organization supplies. "It really adds up."
Tostenson isn't alone — Nearly all teachers pay for classroom supplies out of pocket. About 94% of teachers report paying for classroom supplies at an average of $479 per school year, according to the National Center of Education Statistics. And while small tax breaks and school rebates exist, teachers still end up shelling out their own money for supplies.
This is because teachers generally start their classrooms from the ground up, which means almost everything in a classroom — from decorations on the walls to the stickers on student work to books in a classroom library — usually comes out of the teacher's pocket.
Teachers today want classrooms to be a second home for students, Tostenson said.
But this summer, a social media campaign is helping teachers stock their classrooms.
A new viral campaign using the hashtag #clearthelists has drawn attention to the needs of teachers all over the country. Teachers simply create a "wishlist" on Amazon, similar to lists created for baby showers or wedding registries. Teachers then share their lists using the hashtag on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Potential donors can search for the hashtag on social media and get connected to purchase from teachers' lists. Amazon mails the items directly to the teacher, and donors can opt to include their name and a thank you note or be anonymous.
Lists include books, markers and pencils, and even some larger items like furniture.
Some teachers have had an individual purchase everything on their $1000 list, Tostenson said.
The movement started in a small Facebook group for teachers but has grown since its creation by a Texas elementary school teacher, Courtney Jones, last month. Since then, the hashtag has gone viral and expanded across social media platforms.
So far, Tostenson has received snacks, class prizes and markers from total strangers.
The campaign also gained attention from politicians and celebrities, including Kourtney Kardashian, country singer Casey Donahew and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. Not long ago, country singer Josh Abbott purchased everything on a Texas teacher’s wishlist.
Tostenson is hoping other North Dakota teachers join in and that the campaign continues to spread.
"Teachers can't do it alone," Tostenson said. "It’s nice to know there are supports for you."
Readers can reach education reporter Emma Beyer, a Report For America corps member, at 701-241-5535 or firstname.lastname@example.org.