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On the Ground with Tennessee Teachers: 3 Things We Learned from These Amazing Educators


I went to Tennessee to connect with teachers and learn how DonorsChoose.org can help them. What I got was an inspiring sense of community… and one phenomenal haircut.

Tennessee Trees

As part of my DonorsChoose.org teacher outreach work, I travel to different parts of the country to see what’s happening on the ground. Recently, as part of a research grant from 100kin10, I found myself on a road trip from Nashville to Memphis—meeting educators and partner organizations, listening to their stories, and helping teachers post their first projects on our site.Many of our country’s teachers share common characteristics—dedication, creativity, and compassion—but every teacher also has unique strengths and concerns. It would be wrong of me to assume that my experiences teaching in Harlem are the same as those of, for example, teachers in rural Clarkson, Tennessee.Here are just a few of the things I learned from the communities I visited in Nashville, Memphis, and the places in between.It takes a village. Despite sometimes long distances between students, teachers, and their schools, the towns I visited were tight-knit. As a result, teachers are eager to share with their communities the exciting things their students are doing. Posting projects on our site is just one way for them to do this and gain support—whether emotional or monetary. Their view of DonorsChoose.org as an opportunity to celebrate their students was inspiring and showcases how their communities embody the maxim: “It takes a village to raise a child.” We can always do more. We’re always looking for new ways to help educators, and never has it been more clear to me that we should continue to do so than on this trip. Many of the teachers I met mentioned their students’ need for basic, life-essential items. As one educator said: “I know we should be thinking about nicer books or a carpet like you said as examples. But I don’t spend my money on that. I am spending my money on socks for kids in the winter and yogurt cups for breakfast.” At DonorsChoose.org, we recently launched a small pilot for teachers to request these types of items. I was excited to share this news, but these conversations also reminded me that we should never stop exploring new options for our teachers. Generosity begets generosity. The teachers I met had a “pay it forward” mindset, always looking for ways to help their students, coworkers, and community. Within minutes of posting their first project, teachers asked how they could spread the word to their colleagues. Instead of asking about minimums for thank you packages, one teacher asked if there was a “maximum number of cards... and is it possible to send a gift basket?” This “pay it forward” attitude extends beyond the classroom for these educators. One teacher even insisted that I go to her husband’s barbershop across the street from school for a free haircut. It was the best I ever received.

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