Meet my brother-in-law, Tyler—collector of vintage toys, comic books, records, and tattoos. A lover of films, especially unintentionally bad ones, professional wrestling, concerts, and his Muscogee (Creek) heritage. My brother-in-law is the rare adult for whom gift buying is easy and fun. Today is his birthday.
Whether through divine providence or sheer luck, Tyler was the perfect ornery little brother for Mitch, a future preacher in need of endless sermon illustrations. If you’ve listened to many of his sermons, you’ve likely heard at least one Tyler story.
All grown up and with just the right amount of ornery remaining, Tyler has become an art teacher extraordinaire in the public school system. He was named “Teacher of the Year” in 2009 and continues to win the more coveted title of “Favorite Teacher of the Year” from many, if not all, of his students.
There are many stories worthy of sharing about the art projects and experiences he provides his students. But my favorite comes from his first year of teaching.
That year, the kindergarten students were only allowed to color with crayons. Markers were forbidden, a very understandable rule for anyone who has had the pleasure of managing a classroom full of 5-year-olds.
However, on the last day of school, Tyler broke out the markers and let the kindergarten students take turns coloring in the tattoos on his arms. I can almost hear the squeals of a classroom full of excited kiddos and guarantee that years later, those young adults still smile when they think of that day.
Tyler is a gift to his students, his school, and society at large. He is shaping the future.
Two weeks ago, Tyler posted the following on Facebook, “My birthday is a couple weeks away! In lieu of the usual gift bearing, classroom donations are always accepted! Click the link below! Mvtooo”
While none of us are strangers to teachers posting their back-to-school wish lists this time of year, this one struck a nerve. I could not get it out of my mind.
Tyler, collector of vintage toys, records, comic books, and tattoos, would most certainly delight in a limited-edition Rick Flair wrestling figure or comic bookstore gift card on his birthday. However, I know he would rather have the tools he needs to educate his students and the state is simply not providing them.
Teachers crowdsourcing work supplies has become the norm. We no longer question the system.
Consider how absurd it is to take to social media and ask friends to help us buy staplers, paper, pens, and other essential tools we need to be effective in our jobs. Imagine your physician taking to social media to ask for a stethoscope or your accountant requesting a calculator. Crazy, right?
In the wealthiest nation on the planet, those who are responsible for educating our future leaders are not only grossly underpaid, but they are also crowdsourcing the tools they need to do their job.
Teachers buying their own supplies is nothing new, but each year the situation becomes more dire as funds continue to be stripped away. States like Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma, where Tyler and his wife, Shannell teach, have made things especially difficult for teachers.
Due to funding cuts, book bans, and the vilification of teachers, those who seek to sabotage a founding principle of our country— public education for all students— are making great strides in doing just that.
Those who believe education should be a resource only available to those with means and access are foolish to think that the minds with the potential to discover the next medical breakthrough, innovate new ways to create and conserve energy, or invent the next gadget to make our lives easier are only sitting in elite private schools.
The next Monet or Picasso may very well be sitting in Tyler’s classroom in the middle of Oklahoma, where paint and paintbrushes are not guaranteed. What an indictment that we have settled for a system that does not ensure all students can find their passion and reach their potential.
As a new school year approaches, not only should we give generously to the teachers in our lives and make sure they have the tools they need, but we must also continue to fight and advocate for public education. Our students and our teachers deserve the very best society can give.
Let’s strive for the day that my brother and sister-in-law do not feel the need to ask for classroom supplies for their birthdays. Better yet, let’s insist on it.
If you have not yet contributed to a teacher in your life, consider this a sign. And if you are interested in helping a rockstar teacher or two, feel free to check out Tyler and his wife, Shanell’s lists.