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Guest Blog
Fund for Teachers Speaks

In the 1988 movie Big, a twelve-year-old boy frustrated by life’s limitation (his size and household chores) drops a coin in the Zoltar Speaks fortune teller machine and asks to be “big.” After hitting and kicking the seemingly defunct carnival attraction, Zoltar dispenses the fortune “Your Wish is Granted.”
Similarly, America’s classrooms are full of teachers discouraged by the state of education and the demands placed upon them. Educators are underpaid, uninspired or underappreciated (and often all three). Each year, however, the stalwarts look beyond their limitations by writing Fund for Teachers grant proposals for self-designed summer fellowships. For 483 applicants this year, their wish was granted and they are now embarking on classroom- and career-changing odysseys.

“Fund for Teachers showed me how to teach ‘for’ my students, not just ‘to’ my students,” said Pia DeLeon, 2014 Houston Fellow. “Everything I brought back [from Japan] was geared solely for them, which allowed for personal and deeper connections during lessons, novel studies and discussions. Without Fund for Teachers, my students would still be completing projects based on what pleased me instead of fulfilling their creative outlet in order to hold themselves to a higher standard.”

DeLeon designed a fellowship to observe how International Baccalaureate teachers in Japan successfully implement transdisciplinary skills to create lessons that promote independent thinking and extend beyond the classroom.
More than 6,500 preK-12 teachers have used $23.5 million in Fund for Teachers grants to become students again: attending conferences, embarking on self-guided expeditions, conducting fieldwork and joining service learning projects during the summer. Afterwards, and for years to come, classrooms become extensions of the fellowships – laboratories in which students process and put into practice their teachers’ learning.
An additional outcome of Fund for Teachers grants is the ripple effect of learning they create – and not just for students. Buoyed by their “granted wishes” and experiential learning, many teachers apply for additional grants. They become role models of courage and determination for students and also become Fulbright Fellows, NEH grant recipients and more.

“Once we studied mosaics in the three Venices of the world [California, Florida and Italy], we just had to create another educational experience. We were hooked!” said 2014 Indiana Fellows Mary Hilger and Mary Sorrells. “Thank you for inspiring us to go beyond our wildest dreams to be educators who set a spark in our classrooms.”

Hilger and Sorrells departed the first week of June for a painting workshop at Monet’s Gardens in Giverny, France. Last year, using knowledge and skills from the fellowship, Hilger’s students created a 6×8 mosaic for their campus’ common area, illustrating the impact a Fund for Teachers fellowship makes on a school community, as well.
At the close of Big, the pre-teen returns to Zoltar, asking to be a kid again. This is where the movie parallel ends because, for FFT Fellows, there’s no turning back.

“The insights I gained tint the lens through which I teach and understand the world.”
“I feel a deep re-connection and re-commitment to my lifelong passion of teaching.”
“This experience made me a more skilled and knowledgeable teacher and energized me as I reenter the classroom for the tenth year.”

These quotes are pulled from hundreds of thank you letters sent by teachers. We should all wish for these types of educators for our students.
To follow this year’s FFT Fellows, visit the organization’s Facebook page, website and blog. The application for 2016 FFT grants opens October 1 and is due January 28, 2016.