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The Cost of Classroom Libraries: A Teacher’s Dowry (and How You Can Help)

Teachers and their struggle for fair compensation have finally been making headlines. Stories long known in education circles are being heard by the broader public: teachers with second and third jobs to make ends meet, lack of upkeep with inflation, and out-of-pocket expenses for supplies.

A dark, hidden secret that still hasn’t had its moment in the spotlight: in most public schools, classroom libraries are almost always funded by teachers themselves. These vital tools for teaching children literacy skills and a love of reading are basically charitable donations made by already underpaid employees.

In what other industry would this be acceptable? Imagine a surgeon supplying her own bandages. Or a firefighter paying for the hoses. Donalyn Miller, an award-winning teacher, author, and staff developer, refers to this horrible phenomenon as a teacher’s dowry. Does a dowry seem old-fashioned, wrong, and absurd in 2018? You bet. And yet here we are. She said, “No one asks the basketball coach to buy the basketballs. Books shouldn’t be part of the dowry we pay to become a teacher.” I simply cannot stress just how true this is. (Links to some of Donalyn Miller’s books on the topic of childhood literacy and book access at the bottom of this post.)

“Build your classroom library” is probably written in every professional development book about reading written in the last 25 years. All teachers know the importance of being able to give students access to books on the spot. Teachers dream of being able to refer a student to just the right book at just the right time. You want to be able to give them access to copies of the newest books, best of the classics, from a variety of genres. You want them to be organized, in bins, on shelves, with labels, in a system that works well for you and your class.

Consider the cost: an inexpensive children’s book is $5. Times 30 children. A classroom library with just 5 books per student can easily cost more than $750.

Teachers get creative. They use Donors Choose or other crowdfunding. They use Scholastic Bonus points, if they have students that can afford it (by the way, the students that most need a kick ass classroom library are the ones that can’t afford the Book Club). But mainly, they use their own money. I’ll share with you the story of my classroom library and the dowry I carry.

When I was single, I bought oodles of books for my from-scratch classroom library because I chose to do so. I did it without even thinking. I did not put money into the retirement fund my school corporation set up. I did not pad my savings. I did not think about a future down payment on a house. Why? Because my students needed books. I was young. I was in love with my profession. I was insanely jealous of the teachers next door with shelves of books. I thought it would make me look like a better teacher to parents and administrators. But most importantly, I knew my kids deserved a classroom library that would better allow them to fall in love with reading.

Let me be clear: I was in a position to be able to do this. I was not saddled with student loan debt the way many teachers are. I lived in a city with a low cost of living, so my housing costs were reasonable. As I said, I did not yet have a family to feed. But should someone making $26,000 per year also have to spend $1,500 per year to do her job well?

Fast forward, 5 years later. My soon-to-be husband and I are having THE talk. The one that involves merging finances, discussing how the bills will be paid, and how much we will save. It became clear how much I was spending on books and not on building a solid financial future for myself.

On my first wedding anniversary, my husband told me he would build me something from scratch for the house we had remodeled together. I could pick anything. You know what I picked? Wooden shelves that fit the plastic tubs of books for my classroom. I cried as we stained them together- not just because of their perfect fit, that was great too, but because I managed to find someone that understood my passion for showing children the joy of reading.

Over the past ten years, I’ve taught 3 different grade levels. Each time, I basically started over to build an age-appropriate classroom library. The financial drain on my bank account continued because the more I bought, the more the kids read. And wrote. And grew. And loved. I was a book buying junkie, fueled by the need my kids had for more.

Students typically do not experience the joy reading can bring by only completing workbook pages, which IS provided. It falls on the shoulders of our teachers and librarians to remind students that the real joy is found between the covers of books.

When I took a job as reading specialist, I preached to an entire district of teachers that they needed wonderful classroom libraries. And I meant it. But I now cringe at the financial sacrifice those teachers may have made in order to make this happen and meet that expectation.

I shouldn’t feel guilty for advocating what I know is right. I should only feel anger that in today’s America, teachers are not given money for books, the most vital tool in education.

Now I’m a school librarian. As I spend less money of my own now, and instead spend down the library budget to the last penny each year on more books, I’m again reminded of Donalyn Miller referring to classroom libraries as a dowry. I really, truly brought a dowry into my marriage. Only it didn’t end the day we were married.

In America, we are holding our teachers financially hostage by promoting the importance of books but not providing the money to buy the books they know their students want and need.

How Parents and Caregivers Can Get Involved in Supporting Classroom Libraries

  • When you hear about a classroom teacher switching grade levels, whether by choice or not, PLEASE consider asking the teacher about his or her classroom library. Maybe you have something that could help, whether through financial means or a few books of your own you could donate.
  • Skip the lotion, mug, and ornament: purchase your child’s teacher a book to add to their library as a holiday or end of year gift. Bonus points for hardback… they last longer. Encourage your fellow parents/caregivers to do the same.
  • If you are involved in your school’s parent organization, advocate that some of the money raised in all those fundraisers be channeled back to the teachers in the form of bookstore/Amazon gift cards. Or host a book drive for book donations. What a great volunteer project for kids in the final grade of elementary, middle, or high school: a lasting legacy of some of their favorite books left behind for the children entering these schools!
  • If you have the means, please consider purchasing a book from the Scholastic Book Club if your child’s teacher participates. Chances are, that teacher desperately needs those points in order to add the books he/she knows will be a hit. Use the Book Club to buy birthday gifts for your kids, other kids, and for donations.
  • Please do not complain about the school supply list. Because if you don’t buy the items on the supply list, the teachers will buy the supplies and then they may not buy the books.
  • VOTE for candidates who support public education in meaningful ways (increased teacher salaries, as an example).

Thank you for your consideration of ways you can support better classroom libraries. Millions of teachers thank you as well. And thank you to all of those, including my husband, who have sacrificed financially (or used their stellar woodworking skills) to make possible the classroom libraries in which your children read. Let’s all do our part to change this antiquated practice of teacher dowries for something as basic as high quality books in our classrooms.

Disclosure: The below links are Amazon affiliate links to additional resources related to this post.

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  19. Hey, how’s it going?

    I want to pass along some very important news that everyone needs to hear!

    In December of 2017, Donald Trump made history by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Why is this big news? Because by this the Jewish people of Israel are now able to press forward in bringing about the Third Temple prophesied in the Bible.

    Jewish Rabbis have publicly announced that their Messiah will be revealed in the coming years who will be a leader and spiritual guide to all nations, gathering all religions under the worship of one God.

    Biblical prophecy tells us that this Jewish Messiah who will take the stage will be the antichrist “who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God” (2 Thessalonians 2:4). For a time he will bring about a false peace, but “Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (Matthew 24:15)…then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matthew 24:21).

    More importantly, the power that runs the world wants to put a RFID microchip in our body making us total slaves to them. This chip matches perfectly with the Mark of the Beast in the Bible, more specifically in Revelation 13:16-18:

    “He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.

    Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: His number is 666.”

    Referring to the last days, this could only be speaking of a cashless society, which we have yet to see, but are heading towards. Otherwise, we could still buy or sell without the mark amongst others if physical money was still currency. This Mark couldn’t be spiritual because the word references two different physical locations. If it was spiritual it would just say in the forehead. RFID microchip implant technology will be the future of a one world cashless society containing digital currency. It will be implanted in the right-hand or the forehead, and we cannot buy or sell without it. Revelation 13:11-18 tells us that a false prophet will arise on the world scene doing miracles before men, deceiving them to receive this Mark. Do not be deceived! We must grow strong in Jesus. AT ALL COSTS, DO NOT TAKE IT!

    “Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name” (Revelation 14:9-11).

    People have been saying the end is coming for many years, but we needed two key things. One, the Third Temple, and two, the technology for a cashless society to fulfill the prophecy of the Mark of the Beast.

    Visit http://WWW.BIBLEFREEDOM.COM to see proof for these things and why the Bible truly is the word of God!

    If you haven’t already, it is time to seek God with all your heart. Jesus loves you more than you could imagine. He wants to have a relationship with you and redeem you from your sins. Turn to Him and repent while there is still hope! This is forever…God bless!


    We all know God exists. Why? Because without Him, we couldn’t prove anything at all. Do we live our lives as if we cannot know anything? No. So why is God necessary? In order to know anything for certain, you would have to know everything, or have revelation from somebody who does. Who is capable of knowing everything? God. So to know anything, you would have to be God, or know God.

    A worldview without God cannot account for the uniformity and intelligibility of nature. And why is it that we can even reason that God is the best explanation for this if there is no God? We are given reason to know or reject God, but never to know that He does not exist.

    It has been calculated by Roger Penrose that the odds of the initial conditions for the big bang to produce the universe that we see to be a number so big, that we could put a zero on every particle in the universe, and even that would not be enough to use every zero. What are the odds that God created the universe? Odds are no such thing. Who of you would gamble your life on one coin flip?

    Is there evidence that the Bible is the truth? Yes. Did you know that the creation accounts listed in the book of Genesis are not only all correct, but are also in the correct chronological order? That the Bible doesn’t say the Earth was formed in six 24-hour days but rather six long but finite periods of time? That the Bible makes 10 times more creation claims than all major “holy” books combined with no contradictions, while these other books have errors in them? The Bible stood alone by concurring with the big bang saying, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1); and says our universe is expanding, thousands of years before scientists discovered these things. Watch a potential life-changing video on the front page of http://WWW.BIBLEFREEDOM.COM with Astronomer(PhD) Hugh Ross explaining all these facts based on published scientific data. He has authored many books, backed even by atheist scientists.

    Jesus came to pay a debt that we could not; to be our legal justifier to reconcile us back to a Holy God; only if we are willing to receive Him: “For the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23).

    God so loved the world that He gave us His only begotten son, so that whoever believes in Him, through faith, shall not perish, but have everlasting life. Jesus says if we wish to enter into life to keep the commands! The two greatest commands are to love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind; and your neighbor as yourself. All the law hang on these commands. We must be born of and lead by the Holy Spirit, to be called children of God, to inherit the kingdom. If we are willing to humble ourselves in prayer to Jesus, to confess and forsake our sins, He is willing to give the Holy Spirit to those who keep asking of Him; giving us a new heart, leading us into all truth!

    Jesus came to free us from the bondage of sin. The everlasting fire was prepared for the devil and his angels due to disobedience to God’s law. If we do the same, what makes us any different than the devil? Jesus says unless we repent, we shall perish. For sin is the transgression of the law. We must walk in the Spirit so we may not fulfill the lusts of the flesh, being hatred, fornication, drunkenness and the like. Whoever practices such things will not inherit the kingdom (Galatians 5:16-26). If we sin, we may come before Jesus to ask for forgiveness (1 John 2:1-2). Evil thoughts are not sins, but rather temptations. It is not until these thoughts conceive and give birth by our own desires that they become sin (James 1:12-15). When we sin, we become in the likeness of the devil’s image, for he who sins is of the devil (1 John 3:8); but if we obey Jesus, in the image of God. For without holiness, we shall not see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).

    The oldest religion in the world is holiness through faith (James 1:27). What religion did Adam and Eve follow before the fall? Jesus, Who became the last Adam, what religion does He follow? Is He not holy? He never told us to follow the rituals and traditions of man but to take up our cross and follow Him (Luke 9:23). There are many false doctrines being taught leading people astray. This is why we need the Holy Spirit for discernment. Unlike religion, holiness cannot be created. It is given to us from above by the baptism of the Spirit. Jesus is more than a religion; He is about having a personal relationship with the Father. Start by reading the Gospel of Matthew, to hear the words of God, to know His character and commandments. Follow and obey Jesus, for He is the way, the truth, and the life!

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