After the time spent establishing a behavior contract for our fifth grade classroom, I was left with the more daunting task of instructing my students. We didn't have many supplies or books. I did have a pile of teaching manuals for each textbook my students were supposed to have, but there weren't enough of any subject to go around. The school did eventually place an order, but I remember that it took a while for the books to come in. Even if everyone had a text, most of my students' reading levels ranged from first to third grade. I did have two students who were close to grade level.
While the community was poor, the school was not in bad shape financially. We received Title One money (supplemental federal funds given to schools with a certain concentration of students who live below the poverty line) and had a business partnership with the local office of a major oil company (They sent their staff to tutor kids once a week and supported the school financially as well). Our school even had an on site "business manager" (The new principal's idea) who handled all of our different sources of funding.
The trouble with the Title One money was that the school's stakeholders (parents and staff) didn't actually have a say in how the money was spent. The feds require that each school receiving these funds form a School Site Council (SSC) committee and that all the stakeholders are represented, give input and vote on budget items. In reality, parents were either too intimidated, too respectful or too uncertain about what was being presented to them to ever speak their mind.
Title One did pay for a teacher on special assignment (TSA). Her job was to work with the staff and to run small academic student intervention groups. She was given the nicest classroom at school and the room was filled with Title One materials (books, manipulatives, charts) that were supposed to be shared by all the classrooms. It was a beautiful sight. In reality, we were rarely able to use this stuff because the Title One teacher guarded the bounty as if she purchased everything with her own money. She seldom ran student groups and was more of a confidant than coach to teachers. I've seen this setup at several Title One schools over the years. Same privileged teacher, same museum of instructional materials and not a whole lot of support. While it goes without saying that not all Title One teachers fit this description (I've also worked with a few excellent Title One teachers), I bet there are quite a few folks reading this who have crossed paths with this school archetype.
In order to procure materials for my classroom, I wrote a series of library mini-grants (funded by our oil company partners). I also put the word out to students that we were in need of book donations for our classroom library and my students came through. They were excited about giving away their old books and I placed placards in each donated book that read "This book was generously donated to our classroom library by **insert student's name**". They liked that a lot. Just as an aside, I learned over the years that my students were incredibly resourceful. Whenever I put the word out for paper, art supplies, materials for a Science experiment, whatever, there were always a couple of students or parents (different ones at different times) who would magically bring us what we needed.
More about what we actually did with the stuff we acquired in the next post.