Teacher's Choice is a sum of money received by NYC teachers to help offset their out-of-pocket expenses in the name of allowing their classrooms to fuction more smoothly. There are pretty strict rules which govern what can and cannot be purchased (see the link above, appendix B).
In the 2014-2015 year, teacher-choice purchases must be completed by February 28th and accountability forms must be turned in by March 2nd. Teachers have been given $77, clinicians $47, laboratory specialists $37 and school secretaries $25.
Tracing the history of Teacher's Choice, to the best of my memory, it seems to tell the tale of the ups, radical downs and moderate upturns in the regard in which my profession is held.
When I first started teaching, over twenty years ago, I think teacher's choice was over $100. I was asked to donate my money back to the school. Since I was financially stable, without a family to support, I turned my money over to the school. I suppose lacking tenure might make one naturally more charitable in such situations, but I don't remember feeling threatened. I just felt like I was helping the team. We had paper in those days and a rexograph machine, turning out noxious-smelling, purple-inked dittos. When you're a new teacher, you don't let too many things bother you. My profession was held in relatively high regard then.
After a time, it seemed teacher's choice climbed to nearly two-hundred dollars, a sum, I would guess, many teachers spend as a minimum each year, buying supplies their schools lack. Teachers could donate part of their sum back to their school. Some years I purchased scholarly works with at least part of my funds. I was asked to bring the purchases to school. I did, after I read them. And, they tended to disappear.
Teacher's Choice dwindled during the Bloomberg years. My memories are dim, but I am told that some years teachers received nothing. It says a lot about the regard the City had for my chosen profession. I have tried to suppress that memory.
Probably not coincidentally, during those lean years, our schools ran short of supplies for teachers and students. For a time, teachers would share coupons and buy their own copy paper. For a time, I had to buy my own dry-erase markers. Last year, I spent the sum of my money on dry-erase markers. This year, my school has them more readily available. Never discount the joy brought by small miracles!
For a time, some teachers resorted to asking their high-school students to bring in supplies like a ream of paper. Although some of my students' families may be doing better than me, I'm guessing by the percent of free lunches in the school, most are having a hard time. I could not bring myself to ask.
In the last couple of years, teacher's choice has begun to pick up a bit. Teachers got $57, I think, last year. Although nothing like the sums alive in my golden memories, it signifies improvement. And, this year, teachers received $77. I have no idea where this number comes from, but I'll consider it to be luckier than $57.
Although I have purchased supplies here and there already this year, including index cards, tape, pens, etc., I spent more than the $77 over February break. I recommend Costco, an unlikely choice. Given the UFT boycott against Staples from June of last year and my complete ignorance as to whether or not it is still in effect, I was more than relieved to find Costco's shelves well-stocked with school supplies. What's more, the prices were exceptionally good. I purchased pens, pencils, sheet protectors, notebooks (to further organize lesson plans) and just because I will forever worry that the well might once again run dry, some more dry-erase markers. Who's to say how long it will be until times become exceptionally lean again? It may be just around the corner. Teachers are still among the hunted in the state. For the time being, they seem to be the preferred game of the Governor.