In our Transforming Schools Together series, teachers affiliated with the Center for Teaching Quality invite us to re-imagine the very concept of school, and suggest small actions we can take to improve existing schools.
Confession: I have a penchant for sticky notes. They are the perfect size for the "sticky-note fairy" (wink, wink...guess who?) to sprinkle kind words of encouragement to surprised students and faculty. One day a brown cardboard box filled to the brim with Post-Its showed up at my school office, addressed to me. It came courtesy of someone who has left an imprint on my life, my fairy godmother.
In the summer of 2009, I was prepared for another year of teaching at my high-needs elementary school, doing my best for my little learners. Then I got some news: I had been selected as the 2010 Florida Department of Education/Macy's Teacher of the Year.
What a feel-good year! I presented at conferences and schools, worked with the Florida Department of Education, was interviewed by reporters (!), and met amazing people who valued education. And I had the opportunity to speak at many different venues, telling the stories of my favorite people—my students. A woman I met named Rosemary decided she wanted to support my classroom and made herself my fairy godmother
Weeks after that first cardboard box, I received a package full of office supplies—beautiful, colorful, new, sparkly office supplies for my students and me. Office supplies to teachers and students are like finding $20 in your pocket! The packages kept coming: books, magazines, office organization tools, glue sticks. Oh my!
As grateful as I was for Rosemary's packages, I was even more appreciative of the encouraging emails I received from her. Today's teachers face enormous challenges in the classroom: decreased budgets, cuts to staff, high-stakes mandates that are not adequately funded. And then there is the recession's effect on our students.
Those of us who teach in high-needs schools know what a difference the little things can make in our students' learning experiences. Most of my students live in poverty. Some have tough lives at home. School is a safe place, but a supply-starved one at times.
I'm going to have a raw and open moment here, the honest truth. There are times that even the most competent teachers struggle with doing all we can to help each student learn in this challenging environment. Sometimes we need someone to swoop in and give us a shining ray of hope or a glimmer of an "atta-boy" or "atta-girl" to keep us going. It doesn't matter who—it could be someone who knows us, or whose sister's hairdresser knows us. It could be a complete stranger.
I had no idea what Rosemary looked like until the afternoon we met in a sunbeam-filled corner of a quiet little coffee shop. Most people don't get the chance to meet their fairy godmother, nevertheless squeeze her, but since I had the chance, I let her know how much my students and I appreciated her small and large acts of kindness. Of course, she didn't come empty-handed—she had an Alphasmart word processor for my students.
We became great friends—accidental family—connected in a way that I can't quite explain. But I have a heavy heart. My Rosemary, my fairy godmother, recently lost her 7-year-long battle with ovarian cancer. But Rosemary's work isn't finished yet, and I know what she needs for her legacy. Rosemary needs to spark a wave of fairy godmothers and godfathers across America this year. Let's start the Rosemary Effect.
Will you help? Here's how:
1. Share this post: Your social networks can spread Rosemary's story.
2. Choose a teacher: Maybe he/she is a neighbor, or someone in your yoga class, or a friend of a Facebook friend. Or maybe you'd prefer to select a stranger who teaches at a high-needs school in your area. Sites like Donors Choose can help you with this.
3. Each month during the school year, do a little something: Send the teacher a note or email message. When you're feeling fancy, include a gift card, box of supplies, etc. Be anonymous if you prefer, or communicate with the teacher to find out what his or her students could use.
4. Bookmark this post and report back in the comments: Not so you can get props for your actions—just to inspire others with ideas. And to let Rosemary's family and friends see the difference she's made.
These days, every teacher needs and deserves a supporter. A fairy godmother. Thank you, Rosemary, for being mine.