Teachers typically shell out hundreds of dollars a year on classroom decorations and supplies. New teachers often spend even more, since they’re starting from scratch.
One way to defuse some of the costs? Throw a teacher shower.
Similar to parties for an upcoming marriage or a new baby, teacher showers are gift-giving events designed to celebrate a new teacher and supply them with the classroom decorations they need. Some new teachers invite only their family and friends, while others invite mentor teachers, including those who worked with them during their student-teaching experience or colleagues at their new school.
“It was a huge help—I didn’t realize how much goes into teaching and how expensive it was [to set up a classroom],” said Olivia Aston, a first-year 2nd grade teacher who had a teacher shower this summer. “People have bridal showers. Why not one for teaching?”
Teacher showers are not a new concept—in fact, they were popular in the 1920s. Back then, they were called schoolmarm showers, and they were mostly hosted by students’ parents at the school, said Jennifer Binis, a freelance editor and researcher. But those showers were eventually banned by many schools.
“They wanted to squelch favoritism,” she said.
The concept of teacher showers, in some form or fashion, stuck around throughout the decades, Binis said. Newspaper articles from the early 2000s, including a 2007 Dear Abby column, highlighted the idea.
“I love the concept of a teacher shower to help young, idealistic educators get off to the start they need,” the advice columnist wrote.
Nowadays, teacher showers are not nearly as ubiquitous as teachers sharing their Amazon or DonorsChoose wish lists on social media to crowdfund their classrooms.
“There’s less of a community around new teachers,” Binis said.
Shower attendees can act as mentors
For some first-year teachers, surrounding themselves with experienced educators is part of the appeal of teacher showers.
Aston invited about 15 teachers to come to her shower, which was hosted by her mother, who used to be a teacher and still teaches children at church. Some of the teachers were from the school where she had worked as a long-term substitute, some were at the school where she’s currently teaching, and some were friends from church.
“People who have been teaching for years brought things I had not thought of,” she said, adding that they also each brought pieces of advice about classroom management and how to build relationships with students.
And after the party, “a lot of them have checked up on to me to make sure I’m doing well,” said Aston, who teaches at Flat Rock Elementary School in Powhatan, Va. “It’s really nice to make sure you have that support.”
Most teachers spend hundreds of dollars on classroom supplies
Federal data show that the vast majority of teachers spend their own money on classroom supplies, with elementary teachers spending more than secondary teachers. Teachers in schools with a high percentage of students who receive free and reduced-price lunch also spend more than their peers at more affluent schools.
A study by the nonprofit AdoptaClassroom.org found that teachers spent an average of $750 out of pocket on school supplies during the 2020-21 school year.
This year, teachers can deduct up to $300 of classroom spending on their taxes—an increase from the $250 limit that’s been in place for 20 years. The Internal Revenue Service announced the change last month and said the limit would rise in $50 increments in future years based on inflation adjustments.
Still, the classroom expenses can be burdensome, especially in a profession known for its low wages compared to similarly educated workers.
Avery Caldwell, a 3rd grade language arts teacher at Amelia County Elementary School near Richmond, Va., had her graduation party double as a teacher shower. Her family and friends bought presents for her classroom, including big-ticket items like bookshelves.
Caldwell later bought the rest of the supplies she needed and ended up spending about $1,000.
“I can only imagine, with what I was given, how much more that would have cost total,” she said.
Even so, some educators worry that the concept of a teacher shower normalizes the expectations put on teachers to supply their own classrooms and pay for student needs out of pocket.
“You would never need an office shower,” said Shawn Schwerman, who taught for about 30 years before retiring last January. “We’re buying into the fact that that’s OK. That should not be OK.”
Schwerman added that new teachers who have a shower should be mindful of their guest list. If veteran teachers are invited to a handful of showers each year, the costs would add up, she said.
“The people who are going to be most likely to give to new teachers are people who are already spending hundreds of dollars [on their own classrooms],” she said. “You’re tapping into a source that’s already tapped out, which leads to that burnout feeling.”
Teacher showers provide some joy
Still, teacher showers can be a source of levity and community during a stressful time for the teaching profession, educators say. Teacher job satisfaction appears to have hit an all-time low, according to EdWeek Research Center data, and interest in the profession is dwindling.
Yet at Aston’s shower, the teachers in attendance talked not about the tough aspects, but about the entertaining and rewarding parts of teaching. The guests played games that emphasized teamwork and collaboration.
Meanwhile, Caldwell said she received some sentimental gifts at her shower, including her grandmother’s rocking chair and hand-me-down children’s books. Before reading to her class, she tells her students who gave her the book.
“I incorporate into our learning what they gave me,” she said. “My students love everything I got.”