Donors choose

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I found this awesome charitable organization, DonorsChoose, through Facebook when a friend–an elementary school music teacher–requested supplies for her classroom.

Having worked at an American school, I’ve seen firsthand how funding cuts strip teachers of their ability to effectively communicate their lessons. Moreover, annual curriculum changes and administrative bureaucracy undermine teachers’ authority, even though they’re the ones who know best what their students really need.

Enter DonorsChoose. Teachers create projects (buying microscopes, say, or funding a field trip) with a specific budget and goal. Individual donors can then sponsor individual classrooms and, once the project is completed, receive personalized thanks from the teacher and their students. DonorsChoose calls it “citizen philanthropy.” I call it genius. Check out some of the projects listed–you just might be inspired to donate!

How to be a teacher

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What you’ll need: chalk, infinite patience

Songlist: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Teach Your ChildrenABC by Jackson 5

Further readingOld School by Tobias Wolff

It’s Labor Day today, which brings back memories of meticulously prepared first-day-of-school outfits and the end of summertime freedoms. Being from a farming state meant that school always started the day after Labor Day (the children’s help was historically required during the harvest and Minnesota State Fair). Thus, though I never hated school, I always hated Labor Day. Now that I have disassociated Labor Day from anxiety, I somewhat relish the fact that today changes nothing in my daily schedule.

This year is only the second in my life that I have not been tied to an academic schedule. The September after I graduated college, I moved to a small town in Spain to teach English. I was one of the thousands of college kids who realized that, after 14 years of education, my only employable skill was my knowledge of English.

Luckily, both my parents taught English as a second language in Morocco (and my mom continued on in the ESL program at the University of Minnesota for a quarter century) so we had plenty of books on American idioms, grammar, vocabulary games. The books took up way too much volume in my suitcase, but they were my saving grace in Spain–I had no idea what I was doing otherwise.

My elementary school

Not that I hadn’t practiced teaching. As a kid I would bring my chalkboard downstairs and teach my stuffed animals the math lessons I’d just learned. Sometimes I’d make my mom join in as a student, which she did with great patience (turns out she knew her multiplication tables long before I came around). I was blessed with dozens of incredible teachers, so naturally I wanted to emulate them.

After I returned from Spain I started teaching through AmeriCorps at the elementary school I attended as a kid. Next to the classroom in which I was a literacy tutor was my own first grade homeroom–complete with my first grade teacher. It was somewhat incredible to go from being Ms. O’s six-year-old student to her colleague, asking for advice on pedagogy and behavioral issues.

After two years of teaching, though, I was worn out. I never had to control more than about ten students at any one time, but one is more than enough for me. I returned to the same elementary school this year as a volunteer tutor for some of the students I’d taught the previous year, but only once a week for only one hour. I would love to see the same students this year, but it’s a great relief today not to be worrying about lesson plans and learning goals. This Labor Day will be completely free of labor–just the way I like it.