Teachers are the unsung heroes of our society, and yet they are still often underpaid and overworked. In one Arizona school district, frustrations had reached a boiling point. But when one instructor made a statement on Facebook that addressed the political unrest, people finally started paying attention to just how poorly she and her ilk were being treated.
Elisabeth Milich loved her job as a second-grade teacher at Phoenix’s Whispering Wind Academy, but the sight of one pay stub made her want to pull her hair out. That led her to do the unthinkable: in the middle of the school day, she walked out of her classroom.
In April of 2018, Elisabeth couldn’t take it anymore. Furious about the system continually failing to appreciate her, she stormed out. But this teacher didn’t just kick her feet up at home. No, she took to the streets.
New York Post
She joined 70,000 of Arizona’s teachers, who walked out of their classrooms and took to the state capitol in protest. They were unhappy with how those in their profession were treated and demanded recognition — and raises — for their hard work.
See, the average salary for an Arizona teacher wasn’t great; in fact, they made almost $10,000 less than most other teachers in America. Not only that, but their salaries had actually gone down by 14% in the previous ten years — and it got worse.
Their salaries didn’t tell the whole story. Despite minimal pay, teachers spent on average almost $500 of their own money on supplies for their classrooms every year. That’s hard-earned money taken out of their paychecks that they didn’t get back.
So, during the walkout, the teachers organized events to inform the public about their concerns while making sure the students who relied on subsidized lunches still got their daily meals. Best of all, these protests had some serious results.
The teachers’ inspiring movement was met with support from their community and many of their leaders. “We are inspired and so proud of the brave and righteous stand that you are taking,” said State Senator Rebecca Rios. But it was something Elisabeth did that really sent a message to Arizonians.
Elisabeth wanted to show people that she was struggling to get by on her salary while also paying for school supplies out of pocket, so she took to Facebook. There, she shared her thoughts — and her pay — and people took notice.
Elisabeth wrote, “I buy every roll of tape I use, every paper clip I use, every sharpie I grade with, every snack I feed kids who don’t have them, every decorated bulletin board, the list could go on.”
“I’ve debated about posting this but in the end want to show what a teaching salary really looks like in AZ,” Elisabeth continued. “I mean really, I need a college degree to make this?”
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
She then shared a photo of her paystub — $35,000, or $639 every two weeks. She confessed that, without her husband’s paycheck, she likely couldn’t live. Her post ended with a stunning final note.
Elisabeth finished her post by reminding people of one simple fact: “No one goes into teaching for the money, by all means…but we do need to eat and have a home!” The effects of her post were immediate.
The post blew up on the internet, and within 24 hours, it was shared over 1,000 times. Many more Arizonians cheered on Elisabeth, shocked by how little teachers made every year. But one person, in particular, saw the post and took action…
Months later, after Elisabeth had long forgotten about her viral post, she received a Facebook message from a stranger named Ben Adam. He wrote just one sentence.
All his message said was, “Has anybody offered to buy supplies for your classroom?” He followed up by offering to pay for all the school materials she needed that semester!
As you might expect, Elisabeth was completely taken aback: “I just thought that was so crazy and there’s gotta be a catch because this man lives in New York!” Somehow, he’d even heard about troubles in Arizona.
Elisabeth couldn’t be certain if this stranger was pulling her leg but, sure enough, the supplies arrived shortly after. She was blown away and thrilled that she could finally provide her students with the education they deserved. Ben didn’t stop there, either.
He’s paid for all of Elisabeth’s supplies for every semester afterwards. And once he heard how many classrooms were in need, he started paying for supplies for five other teachers, too!
Ben said he did all this out of empathy. “I have three kids; I’m a working person,” said Ben. “I can’t imagine trying to live, buy supplies, and support my family on $35,000 a year.”
Best of all, he wasn’t done. Ben had another idea up his sleeve: Knowing there were thousands more teachers out there struggling to stock their classrooms, Ben set up Classroom Giving in 2019, a website that let people across the country buy supplies for teachers in need.
Since April of that year, the website has helped 37 teachers fully supply their classrooms. The support was overwhelming and allowed these teachers to provide their students with everything from schoolbooks to paint brushes.
Ben planned to keep expanding the initiative and hoped more local businesses would get involved. His dream was to strengthen the bonds between classrooms and donors by having students visit local businesses and write thank-you notes.
But it wasn’t just the teachers feeling the support. The children receiving the school supplies were thrilled to know there were people in the world who cared about supporting their education.
The New York Times
Elisabeth was hopeful this sparked change for teachers in her state: “To show kids, teachers and school districts that our local businesses are as invested in education as someone across the country is,” she said, “could be really revolutionary for the culture of education in Arizona.”
In the meantime, Ben’s program could go long way in helping dedicated teachers like Leland Michael of Des Moines, Iowa. He knew kids are the future, but he, too, struggled to pay for supplies.
Leland thought education was so important he went into it professionally himself. He taught at Lincoln High School in Des Moines, and he loved working with the young bright students.
In fact, Leland frequently attended teacher rallies around the country to show his support of the hard work they all do on a daily basis. Teaching was often a thankless job, but Leland loved spending time around others who were as dedicated as he was.
Leland and his wife were thrilled to finally start a family of their own, no small feat considering his small salary. While teaching was a rewarding job, it wasn’t one that brought home the big bucks. But Leland took it all in stride until that fateful trip to Walmart…
Every year, a few weeks before the fall high school semester started, parents — Leland included — shopped for all the supplies their children needed for the upcoming school year. Having the necessary supplies was important, but Leland knew many of the parents had mixed feelings about it…
Every family came from different economic backgrounds, and it wasn’t as easy for some parents to afford all the supplies. And while Leland perused the local Walmart for classroom items, he came across a large group of parents angrily discussing the fact they had to purchase supplies.
They even turned to Leland and started complaining. None of them knew he was a teacher, nor did they know that he was using money from his own pocket to buy supplies for the kids in his classroom.
Leland felt pretty dismayed by what he heard the parents say. None of them had any idea of just how hard public schools had it, how many of them — just like him — had to scrounge for pennies in order to give their students a fighting chance. That’s when it happened…
Leland felt someone tap him on the shoulder. He turned around, uneasily. He saw a man with an angry face glaring back at him. Leland was concerned. Was this angry parent going to take out his aggression on him? But then the man finally spoke…
The man asked if Leland was a teacher. When Leland confirmed, the man, who had with him a young daughter, proceeded to thank and praise him for the hard work he and every other teacher in the district put towards the kids. Next, he stuck his hand in his pocket…
…And he offered Leland a $25 gift card to help with the supplies he was buying! It was an act of generosity the likes of which Leland had never encountered before. This was an act of kindness that came from deep within the heart.
Leland used the gift card to help pay for all his classroom supplies, and as he was walking through the parking lot to his car, he spotted the man and his daughter. Leland walked over and thanked the man again for the wonderful gesture. Leland then explained why the gesture was extra special…
Leland told the man about the angered parents he encountered and the comments they made to him. They were completely unaware he was a teacher himself and their comments had very nearly driven him to despair.
But then he met that kind man and his daughter. See, while the angry parents might have brought him down, this man and the positive example he was setting for his daughter had given Leland hope for the future.
That young girl saw her father give the utmost thanks to a teacher, which would have likely meant she would walk into her new classroom at the beginning of the year with respect for her educator. This respect was necessary to attain a particularly special reward…
A college degree! Students who planned on continuing their education after high school needed to look up to their teachers and see them as role models trying to help them be the best they can.
Just because a student wasn’t able to gather all of the necessary supplies, it didn’t mean they weren’t going to succeed. Sure, the supplies helped, but if the student had an eagerness to learn, they’d be just fine. And hopefully, a teacher would spot that desire and help them with the costs.
Leland’s wife was always proud of her husband and his drive to educate the youth. She knew the job came with ups and downs, but his passion to help people grow positively was the reason she fell in love him. She planned on sticking by his side through every ebb and flow of his career.
When Leland first heard those angry words, it was impossible not to feel resentment towards the parents’ attitudes. But his whole day turned around when he realized there were people out there who truly appreciated him and teachers everywhere.
Teachers have undeniably difficult jobs. How they can ever accomplish what they want to do—mold and inspire young minds—with so many challenges in their way is beyond belief, but it certainly isn’t beyond acknowledgment.