We got a first-hand perspective on Title I teaching from a member of WeAreTeachers. Here are some ways brands and nonprofits can apply these insights to become the kind of ally that Title I teachers in particular want to partner with.
I taught in Title I schools for my first five years of teaching. Title I, if you’re not familiar, is a part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that provides financial assistance to schools with a high percentage of kids from low-income families. But that assistance—as any Title I teacher will tell you—isn’t enough to give kids what they need.
During my time in Title I schools, I found I was always coming up short. I needed more time. More energy. More resources. More supplies. More hands in the classroom. More money. More people on my side.
The truth is that all teachers could use more help. I haven’t met a teacher in any school I’ve been in that could tell me, “Wow, I just have too much time, money, and resources. I just don’t know what to do with it all!” But what is also true is this: Title I teachers are dealing with the already-crazy world of teaching, but with a tremendously powerful and sometimes invisible set of forces working against them against them every day.
1. Your donations.
Teachers need things. These were definitely the most voiced by teachers as ones they are constantly running out of and/or having to restock themselves. Brands or nonprofits could consider sponsoring a teacher or school and providing them some or all of what they need on a weekly basis—it would be much faster and simpler than waiting on district paperwork in many cases.
- Books. A great donation is age-appropriate books collecting dust around your house. A better donation is picking out some newer titles of high-interest hardback (they last longer) books. The best donation is a gift card to the bookstore!
- Reams of printer paper
- Pencils. Preferably quality ones that won’t shred the pencil sharpener
- Expo markers. The brand does matter—off-brand markers tend to stain the board.
- Snacks for kids who come to school hungry. Non-perishables like granola bars, crackers, and dried fruit are great options with few allergens.
- New or used calculators. Especially graphing ones for high school math/science
- Gently used clothes and coats
Also, many teachers have Amazon Wishlists or pages on Donors Choose with individualized lists of what they need.
2. Your people.
I can’t tell you how important just the presence of non-teachers is in a Title I school. Not only is it fun for our kids, but the message it sends to kids is invaluable: your community cares about and is invested in your future. Here are some ways companies or causes can encourage employees to donate their time.
- Be a reading buddy, tutor, or mentor. You might think this would only be helpful in elementary classrooms, but I would have loved for someone to come in every week and just read a book, out loud, cover-to-cover, and talk about it alongside one of my 8th graders. Many organizations have community outreach programs that could integrate volunteering at local schools.
- Help organize, clean, or decorate. Can you put books in alphabetical order? Organize supplies into bins? Wipe down boards with a paper towel? Staple paper to a bulletin board? Congratulations! Volunteering to do any of these tasks in a classroom qualifies you as an American hero. At least to a teacher.
- Bring in your expertise. Whether you’re a business guru, master gardener, or computer person, our students have a lot to learn from you! Clearly some of their teachers do too, as evidenced by my use of the term “computer person.” A friend of mine came in and taught yoga to a few of my classes one year and they loved it. Does your company or cause have talented individuals with skills or experience to share with students?
Keep in mind, these actions taken on the individual and local level, when shared through social media, demonstrate to teachers everywhere that you are dedicated to kids and to education. For educators that want to know as much about your values as they do about your products, seeing your values is action can make them more open to your marketing messaging.
3. Your support and encouragement.
Just as important as donations and time to a teacher is the respect and support of society at large. One of the most important things a brand or nonprofit can do to support Title I teaching is to use their platform to challenge negative assumptions about Title I schools and the people who work in and are served by them. Title I teachers aren’t there because they couldn’t find a job in a school in a wealthy area; they are there because they want to be.
Spotlighting the work of a Title I teacher, or targeting these teachers with an outreach program, lets them know that you notice the work they do and care about it. Show them you believe and have faith in their students.
4. Your advocacy.
As employers, as community leaders, as brands and causes that people support and identify with, your voice matters in education, for all types of schools. Pay attention to your elected leaders’ response to the needs of public education. Support public office holders who have a strong record of championing public education and ending educational inequality.
WeAreTeachers is an online community for educators committed to one of the toughest, most rewarding jobs out there.