Schools across the country routinely complain about budget shortfalls. But a recent study shows that teachers are doing more than speaking up for their classrooms – they're funding them. According to findings from the Teacher Buyer Behavior report for 2006-2007, from Quality Education Data, Inc. (QED), an education market research firm, teachers regularly take money out of their own pockets, in order to pay for classroom supplies.

In fact, teachers of grades K-12 spend an average of $475 of their own money, per year, on class materials. For elementary school teachers, the average is a whopping $539. "The findings for the new Teacher Buyer Behavior report reinforce teachers' deep commitment to educating children, regardless of the price tag," says Andy Lacy, QED's general manager.

Close to 1,000 teachers participated in the survey. The majority said they used personal money to buy student rewards (85 percent), materials for classroom decoration (75 percent), and professional materials (59 percent). And they expect to continue doing so. Only a third of teachers felt more funds would arrive in upcoming years. In fact, many felt that their personal contributions would need to increase in the coming years, in order to get the job done.

So what kind of supplies are the most needed? For middle school teachers, it's materials that support differentiated instruction. Elementary school teachers also lack these types of supplies, but report needing something a lot more simple... books. Especially nonfiction trade paperbacks.

When the holidays roll around, or when your class decides to give an appreciation gift, make sure you ask your teacher what they'd like, rather than going all out with an apple-themed sweatshirt or a Teacher Of The Year director's chair. Chances are, they'll want something surprisingly simple – supplies that help keep their classroom humming, and their kids inspired.