NOEL KING, HOST:
We are talking about trends in education from time to time this summer. And the trend we're talking about today is one that will be familiar to many parents - spending money on school supplies. For a lot of families, back-to-school shopping is a stretch, but there are also a lot of teachers out there who are buying classroom supplies using their own money. One Oklahoma teacher got so frustrated, she decided to do something about it. Third-grade teacher Teresa Danks recently went out to a busy highway in Tulsa and she panhandled. She wore a pink Minnie Mouse backpack and held a sign that said, teacher needs school supplies, anything helps. Thank you. Teresa's with us now from her home outside of Tulsa. Hi, Teresa.
TERESA DANKS: Hello. How are you?
KING: Good. We're glad to have you here. Let me start with two big questions. You're a public school teacher, right?
DANKS: That is correct.
KING: Well, how much do you make a year? And how much have you been spending on supplies for your students?
DANKS: I make a little bit under $35,000 a year, and that's before taxes and insurance and stuff. And then I spend about two grand a year on my classroom just to make my kids successful.
KING: Two thousand dollars a year is not a small amount of money on your salary. What sort of things are you buying?
DANKS: I will buy pom-poms, googly eyes, cardboard tubes to make spaceships, your Calendars, you know, seasonal displays. Anything and everything that's beyond furniture and your basic pencils, papers, crayons, markers, that's all on the teachers.
KING: Where did you get the idea to go out to the highway and start panhandling?
DANKS: So my husband and I were just - we went to a Waffle House near our home. I was just telling him about some of the things that I wanted for my classroom. And he just jokingly said, well, I guess worst-case scenario you always make a sign and go to the streets like the panhandlers do. And it just - I don't know - something about it, just, I said, you know what? I said, that would be a perfect picture of me on social media to really send the message of how bad the education system is here in Oklahoma and in many states across the nation. And I said, you know what? Let's do it.
KING: How much did you make in your time out on the street panhandling?
DANKS: In the first 10 minutes, I got $32. And my husband took the pictures. And we were like - we got what we wanted. We went home and posted the picture. And then things just kind of started changing quickly.
KING: All right. Well, here at NPR, we actually posted the photo of you panhandling on Facebook, and we asked our listeners if they would share their own experiences. Here are some of the messages we got.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I teach at a high poverty elementary school. Some students show up on the first day with nothing.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I have come to terms that I am definitely going to be spending my own money.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: I spend hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of dollars on supplies out of pocket.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: This profession is no longer revered or supported as it may once have been, but we continue to press on for our students, who we love as our own.
KING: Teresa, those are some really frustrated teachers. I mean, how common is that sentiment?
DANKS: It's very common. And I'm just one of many voices. I just tried to do something to stir some conversation. And, I mean, I didn't expect anybody to listen because they never have before. And so I'm overwhelmed, and thrilled that people are listening because it is a problem across our nation. And I just think it's time that our legislators start making changes and putting our children first.
KING: You did in the meantime - you started a GoFundMe. How much have you raised so far?
DANKS: We're like right at $26,000 now.
KING: And what do you plan do with the money? You going to spread it around to fellow teachers, fellow colleagues?
DANKS: That is the plan, to get supplies in the hands of the teacher. And also, my long-term goal here is to put pressure on legislators to increase pay across the board for teachers and to fill the classrooms with all the supplies that teachers need so that we're not paying out of pocket every year.
KING: Third-grade teacher Teresa Danks from Tulsa, Okla. Teresa, thank you so much for coming on today, we appreciate it.
DANKS: Thank you so much for talking to me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.