Better school funding, better pay, and better benefits, these are a few of the demands fueling teachers’ recent strikes and walkouts across the U.S., including those in Arizona, Kentucky, Colorado, West Virginia, and Oklahoma. In the wake of the action, these states have taken the first steps to improve school funding.
However, many would argue that we still have a long way to go before we can honestly say that teachers are compensated fairly or that schools have the right supplies to provide a proper education and a healthy learning environment.
We have a lot of work to do, and speaking up is just the beginning. Education is one of the rare issues in which we can make a profound difference on a local level. Along with choosing to participate in strikes or attend walkouts, consider these five ways you can support teachers, both locally and nationwide:
1. Support teachers and schools financially.
There is a significant disparity in the amount of funding that each school receives, which creates a huge quality gap. According to our “Classroom Trends” report, teachers spend an average of $381 of their own money on classroom supplies each year. The problem is worse in regions with lower educational funding, where teachers are forced to spend a yearly average of nearly $500 on classroom supplies. That expense is deducted from a salary that’s already low compared to other professions with similar levels of education and experience.
By donating books, school supplies, or money, you can help offset that high out-of-pocket cost. Check out DonorsChoose, an organization that makes it easy to fund projects at specific schools. To take a more hands-on approach, you can visit schools near you, learn about their needs, and then hold a fundraiser to address those needs.
If you’re unable to make in-kind donations, consider offering gift cards from your business or place of work. You can also offer exclusive teacher appreciation discounts to show your support. Because teachers are spending a lot out of pocket, anything you can do to lessen that burden helps. For example, at Staples, teachers can earn rewards for classroom purchases and up to 10 percent cash back.
If you simply cannot afford to make a financial donation, consider shopping from businesses that support teachers. There are several companies with a dedication to education, even if their industry does not directly correlate. For example, WeAreTeachers recently partnered with Kinsa, a smart thermometer company, to give away 15,000 thermometers. While thermometers aren’t traditionally considered school supplies and are, therefore, excluded from lists, they are essential for stopping the flu and other viruses from spreading throughout schools.
2. Take the time to fully understand education issues.
Regardless of your political preference, it’s important to understand both local and national education issues. Doing research on the issues facing your community is your civic duty, regardless of whether you are a parent or whether you work directly for a school district, because a poorly educated generation will eventually result in a poorly educated population.
Visit sites like Chalkbeat and Education Week to learn about region-specific concerns and local events. There are also local Facebook groups you can participate in to discuss education issues and learn about the schools in your area. If you want to educate yourself on national issues, try consulting larger organizations like the PTA.
It’s fitting that the key to a better education system is learning. Simply being knowledgeable about the issues can inspire progress and keep the education system at the top of our minds, both in local communities and on a larger scale.
3. Create free curriculum resources.
Teachers are often looking for resources to bring into their classrooms. Some companies and organizations dedicate an entire section of their websites to providing educational materials to teachers, like this one by NASA. If you’re in a position to do so, consider developing, sharing, or distributing free materials that could fill a gap at a local or national level.
For example, we know that teachers are often looking for financial literacy resources to help their students understand money skills. At MDR, we’ve worked with the charitable arms at financial corporations to develop free lessons that meet that need for teachers. Through partnerships like this, we can all come together to educate the next generation.
4. Lead by example.
The media’s coverage of education issues tends to be negative, sometimes even blaming teachers for issues they have little or no control over. But sharing your support of educators via social media, on your website, or in everyday conversations can counteract that negativity.
Of course, pairing action with verbal support is the best way to advocate for teachers, but don’t underestimate the powerful effect of words on their own. For example, you might post on social media about local teachers’ classroom projects or even mention your favorite classroom project to your friends at trivia night.
5. Volunteer at a school.
Perhaps the most valuable investment you can make is your time. Volunteering can not only provide much-needed help in our nation’s schools, but it can also help you understand some of the issues teachers face firsthand. Consider bringing your friends along, too, and empower people in your community to advocate for changes in our education system.
If you still need more convincing, take a look at this study from United Healthcare that reports the ways volunteering positively affects mental and physical health. Simply put, helping others also helps you. Confused about where to start? Check out organizations like Reading Partners that have a plethora of volunteer opportunities for anyone looking to get involved.
Most importantly, even though it’s highly politicized in today’s headlines, remember that education is essential to our nation at the most basic level. We are educating the people who will eventually run our country, our businesses, and our communities. We have to care. We have to help where we can. Otherwise, we’re setting ourselves up for even bigger problems in the future.