The 2018-2019 school year started in a new era: post RedforEd. The painted cars, walk-ins, rallies, and walk-out of the spring changed the conversation teachers and the public were having about the state of education. But even after all of that, I was not expecting much (if anything) to be fundamentally altered when school began. I will say that I am usually an optimist, but I have lived in Arizona long enough to know the funding of our schools would not change drastically enough that I would notice a difference. Apart from an increase in my salary, the classroom, the sizes of classes, and the resources have all stayed the same. The biggest change I have seen, much to my surprise, has been an increase in the support I have received from my students’ parents.
It started with a bag of supplies dropped off on the third day of school: tissues, hand sanitizer, index cards, pencils, and glue sticks. I thought these gifts must clearly be an anomaly, but it happened again— with a hand delivery of tissues, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes— and a third time— with an email asking if there was anything I needed outside of the supply list. You have to understand, on average I receive 1 random supply donation a year, so three in two weeks is pretty out of the ordinary. The sudden spike in generosity made me pause and reflect.
Then I started getting back signatures on my syllabus. There is a question I ask every year: “Is there anything else you want me to know about your student?” Usually the responses are pretty standard: “My child has an IEP;” “Little Suzie loves English;” “Let me know if Johnny is missing work.” More often than not, the question is ignored and left blank, but this year there were kind notes, a little inspiration to start the year. I read and reread the responses which said how excited a few students were to be in my class again. I received another message from a parent I’ve never met telling me to let her know if I needed anything to help with my National Board pursuits. These are the messages that serve as little pick-me-ups, especially when they arrive in the middle of a particularly stressful week. I marked them with sticky notes to revisit in a few weeks when I eventually need some reminders that I am making a difference.
I have had even more random acts of kindness woven into the start of our year. One parent brought goodies to a parent meeting; another family delivered a basket of candy left in the teacher’s lounge. When talking to some of my colleagues, they too noticed the trend, having been the recipients of random supplies and well-wishes. A teacher down the hall requested tissues from students, but instead received a pencil sharpener from one who noticed she needed it. These gestures are so appreciated, and, at least for me, show something is clearly different about this year.
Maybe all this generosity has nothing to do with RedforEd. Maybe I have just been gifted with wonderful parents who value teachers. Maybe I have become so accustomed to our current funding levels that a box of tissues has the ability to make me feel valued. Or, maybe RedforEd has shed some light on what teachers put into our classroom every year, and parents have realized we cannot fund our classrooms on our own anymore. And just maybe, this is the start of bigger changes when it comes to how Arizona funds our schools.