BILLINGS — Kerra Olson was putting the finishing touches on her new classroom on Monday at Lewis & Clark Middle School before students join her for the first day of school on Tuesday.
After about 20 years of teaching elementary school, Olson made the move to seventh-grade science. Starting at a new school and in a new classroom means the need for new essentials.
“When you’re a new teacher, it’s a lot different. You’re working on really basic things, and the school does provide some things for you, but it’s not a lot,” Olson said.
Olson said the classroom had chairs, tables and microscopes. But she still needed to buy other things using her own wallet.
“Teachers are kind of that mentality of whatever it takes," she said. "They’re willing to do whatever their students need.”
On top of the typical decorations, supplies and fun things teachers purchase, Olson stocks her class with snacks in case the students are in need of food, has a drawer full of toothbrushes, and has even purchased clothing in the past for children who needed it.
“I have a limit at our house now where you can’t spend more than $250 a month. It could be thousands of dollars if you don’t limit it,” Olson said.
Olson isn't the only teacher spending hundreds of dollars of their own money every year on the class.
Billings resident Tracy Stanaway has a daughter who is a teacher at Broadwater Elementary. She has watched her daughter spend money every year preparing for and maintaining her classroom.
"I saw how much money every year she put out for her school, and for her teachers, friends and for her students. And she just really needed some help,” Stanaway said. “Teachers work so hard, and their pay isn’t great. So, we need to support them in any way that we can.”
Wanting to help out, Stanaway created the Adopt a Teacher Billings Facebook page. Teachers can introduce themselves and share their Amazon wishlists on the page for anyone willing to help them by purchasing supplies.
The goal for the page isn't to just be a helping hand at the beginning of the school year, either. Stanaway said teachers need things throughout the year.
“You can send things directly from the Amazon to the teacher,” Stanaway said. “We started Adopt a Teacher Billings in 2020 and it started with one member, me.”
Three years later, the Facebook group has over 1,300 members. One member is Olson, who said she uses the page and only wished she would have asked for help sooner in her career.
“The wishlist is amazing. Tracy’s page helps you just feel like you’re not alone, and there are so many people who want to support teachers and who want to support education. It just feels like this little group of cheerleaders just cheering you on,” Olson said.
According to AdoptAClassroom.org, a survey of over 3,000 teachers in the spring of 2023 reported that teachers nationwide spend an average of $860 a year of their own money on their classrooms, compared to $600 in 2015 and $740 in 2020.