This week, if you hadn’t heard, is National Teacher Appreciation Week, the week where we remember to appreciate one of the most under-appreciated professions in the country. Now, I’m not a teacher – I went to college with the intent of being a teacher, got into a high school classroom as a substitute teacher right before graduation, and noped out of there so hard I changed professions – but I have several friends that are in the field – and let me tell you, knowing teachers personally will give you an immense appreciation for how hard these people work.
Go ahead, make a ‘they get summers off’ comment. I’ve seen how much teachers work, and I’m positive that a huge number of them work far, far more than 40 hours a week even when you norm for breaks – especially because most of them are working over their ‘breaks.’ Really, it’s best not to think of them as breaks. They’re just ‘non-student periods.’
Instead of the usual “here’s a reminder to appreciate teachers,” I’m making this post into a “here’s how you can help them,” because actual action is better than nice words.
1) Go to Donor’s Choose
Donor’s Choose is a site you might not have heard of, but can be explained pretty simply: at its most basic level, it’s Kickstarter, but for teachers instead of creatives – although that’s an oversimplification. Why do we need this? Well…because our school system is criminally underfunded, meaning teachers are often left to spend money on their own classrooms without reimbursment. The average for the 2014-2015 school year (the most recent year I could find data for) was $479 per teacher.
Most of the projects on Donor’s Choose aren’t to cover that $479. Teachers just eat that cost over the course of the year. The projects on Donor’s Choose are for things that go above and beyond the ‘normal’ costs that teachers pay each year out of pocket. For example, my editor and friend used Donor’s Choose to build a classroom library of modern books that the library didn’t have.
Other projects on there range from helping obtain alternative seating for students to just getting bookshelves for their classrooms to getting specialized supplies they wouldn’t have access too normally. Various foundations and corporations often sign up to match users donations, and if you’re leery of crowdfunding because you’ve been burned before, relax. Donor’s Choose is actually a charitable organization, they buy the supplies and ship them directly to the schools, so there’s no chance of some scumbag posing as a teacher to get free money.
It’s hard to write this and not sound like I’m doing ad copy for Donor’s Choose, which I’m not, but it’s just a phenomenal way to help teachers and make sure the money is going towards things they actually need for their classroom. If I’m gushing a bit, it’s because I actually got to see how much this helps a teacher provide for their students. Of course, if you’d rather cut out the middle man…
2) Call A School and Ask
This is the kind of thing it’s easy to overlook as a viable option, but I promise if you call your local school and ask what supplies they need they’ll be happy to provide your a list, probably while thanking you profusely. The critically underfunded factor means schools always need things – and don’t just think of expensive stuff here. Paper, pens, pencils, markers, dry erase markers, more paper – all of those can be picked up fairly cheap and you’re bound to find a school in your area that needs them.
If you don’t have money to spare, how about time? Schools often have events going on that they need support for – debate competitions, sporting events, plays, dances, Special Olympics, the list goes on and on. Typically these events are staffed by a combination of teachers and parents – and often depends heavily on teachers. You volunteering might give a teacher a much needed evening off.
For the most part, schools rely on the parents and senior citizens to volunteer, since random adults offering to volunteer at schools they have no connections to can raise eyebrows. I know being a parent and probably working a job as well can be incredibly busy and takes up a ton of time…but if half the parents of a school’s students volunteered just a day or two or year, schools would have more volunteers than they’d know what to do with.
If you’re not a parent, consider what your place of employment could do for schools. Just for an example, high schools often have job fairs for their students that aren’t intending on going to college, or perhaps your workplace can become one of the ones that match donations on Donor’s Choose.
3) Write a Letter (or Just an Email)
Let’s say none of the above options work for you. You don’t have the time to volunteer or a workplace that’s interested and able to help and you cannot afford to donate. That’s totally understandable, life can be crazy sometimes. The good news is, there’s a huge thing you can do that I’m guessing has never occurred to you:
Write a letter to an old favorite teacher, or a teacher who really impacted you.
Most schools have staff directories that give you work email addresses for teachers, and even if they don’t, you can reach out to the school’s point of contact and ask they pass the message along.
Think about it. Being a teacher means investing years of your life in helping kids or teens grow and develop…and then mostly never seeing or hearing how their lives went after that. Let your high school composition teacher know you’re working on a novel now. Tell your old math teacher a funny story about how you did, in fact, need algebra in the real world. Let your third-grade social studies teacher know that you’ve found a love of history as an adult.
If nothing else, make sure you reach out to that teacher. You know the one. The teacher that took time to listen to you when you were having a bad day, the one who gave you good advice, the one that took the extra time to push you to be your best, the one that put up with you when you were being a jerk and saw the real problem beneath the surface, the one that listened to you when your friends or parents wouldn’t, or even just the one that made you feel comfortable in school.
Let them know how much that meant to you – or even still means to you. Let them know that you’re doing well now – or if you’re not, that you’re remembering what they taught you and it’s helping you still. Make sure they know that they had an impact on your life and that this thank you is long overdue.
I promise you, it’ll make their day.
Oh, and to my former teacher? The one I know for a fact is reading this blog because we’re still friends? I don’t think I’ve said that to you lately. You were there for me when I needed it most, and I’ve become the adult I am today because you saw potential in me that no one else did.