Harriet Beecher Stowe teacher Erin Deschesne hands out cushions to her students after being surprised with $500 worth of teaching supplies on Tuesday afternoon. John Terhune / The Times Record

For just a moment, stunned silence filled Erin Deschesne’s classroom at Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School as the teacher and her fifth graders processed the treasure trove in front of them.

Then came the chaos: 17 shouting kids rushed to dig into the pile of cushions, globes, lap desks and other supplies, while their grinning teacher looked on in disbelief.

After years of dipping into her own paycheck to stock her classroom, Deschesne was shocked to learn Tuesday afternoon that she had won $500 worth of supplies through Teach Starter’s Back-to-School Clear Your List Giveaway.

“I wanted to cry,” she said. “I’ve never had something happen like this to me.”

Harriet Beecher Stowe teacher Erin Deschesne reacts after a Teach Starter representative surprised her with $500 worth of school supplies from her wishlist. John Terhune / The Times Record

Though school budgets set aside money for classroom essentials, teachers regularly pay out of pocket to supplement those funds, according to the Department of Education. In the 2014-2015 school year, 95.4% of surveyed elementary school teachers used their own money to stock their classrooms, spending an average of $525 each.

“I know when I was in the classroom, I did that pretty routinely,” said Grace Leavitt, president of the Maine Education Association. “Our students have a wide range of needs, and the school budgets aren’t always able to provide all of that.”


Brunswick does a relatively good job helping teachers get the supplies they need, Deschesne said. Still, the district’s budget can’t cover the costs of all essentials like pencils, notebooks and folders, let alone “big ticket” items like lap desks.

“I don’t think any budget will ever meet the needs of any teacher,” Deschesne said. “It’s just sort of an all-around teacher struggle where we don’t usually have all the money we could ever want.”

Teach Starter, which offers its 50,000 subscribers lesson plans and other teaching resources, noticed that more and more educators have begun posting wishlists full of classroom supplies to social media, according to Hilary Dorr, who surprised Deschesne’s class on Tuesday. The company randomly selected several winners from across the country, joining a growing wishlist giveaway trend featured on popular sitcom “Abbott Elementary” earlier this year.

“We’re hoping to do more giveaways like this,” Dorr said. “It is so beneficial to teachers because of the budgets — or lack of budgets.”

Harriet Beecher Stowe teacher Erin Deschesne (left) celebrates with her fifth grade class after winning Teach Starter’s wishlist giveaway. John Terhune / The Times Record

Increased state investment in education could help ease the burden on other Maine teachers in the future, Leavitt said. The state recently reached its longtime goal of funding 55% of K-12 education costs, which she called “a huge step forward.”

For now, Deschesne hopes her class will benefit from supplies she has never been able to afford, like differential seating gear that will allow kids to comfortably work on the floor and other spaces in the classroom.

“Having more options than just sitting at a desk to do their work helps them focus,” she said. “It just helps them be more excited to be at school.”

This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Hilary Dorr’s name.

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