Oklahoma teacher Teresa Danks became so frustrated with job cuts, school closings and a lack of resources that she took to the streets in July to beg for school supplies.
A teacher at the financially strapped Tulsa Public Schools, Danks wanted to make the point that teachers need help in educating children.
She brought her message to North Texas on Thursday, where thousands of teachers regularly spend their own money on supplies, from pencils to glue sticks to cleaning wipes.
“I was nervous,” Danks said, describing how she used a sign to beg strangers for support. Her husband, Jonathan Roark, took a picture to share on social media.
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It only took an hour for local media to call Danks, a third-grade teacher. A day later, her story went national and then global. A picture of her went viral — she was holding a sign that read “Teacher Needs School Supplies! Anything Helps. Thank you.”
Now Danks is famous for her grassroots campaign and has become known as “Panhandle Teacher.”
She came to Fort Worth to offer her star power to a local classroom supply drive and advocate for better education funding at the national, state and local levels.
The Star-Telegram reported earlier this week that Tarrant County lost $7 million in federal funding this school year.
“Education needs to be a priority,” Danks said as she prepared to speak to local schoolteachers.
For the third year, the United Educators Association is partnering with Tarrant County Precinct 5 Justice of the Peace Sergio L. De Leon to collect supplies for teachers who work at schools in Fort Worth.
“We need to do a better job of supporting our teachers,” De Leon said. “It is critically important that we support our educators. They are on the front lines of educating our kids.”
Steven Poole, UEA’s executive director, said teachers spend an average of $1,000 to $2,000 a year for classroom supplies. Poole said this is a nationwide issue that affects teachers of all grade levels.
“No matter where they are teachers are always needing additional supplies for their classrooms,” Poole said.
In three years, the local effort has raised about $30,000 and helped about 250 teachers at about 10 schools, De Leon said.
The drive has earned support from the Fort Worth Professional Firefighters Association, which pledged more than $5,000 in classroom supplies and gift cards. Wal-Mart pledged $10,000. Teachers will likely get the supplies and gift cards after winter break, De Leon said.
Danks’ fundraising efforts on behalf of public school teachers has been showcased in The Washington Post and Time magazine. She has used social media to promote the issue, including a GoFundMe page called “Teresa Danks, Begging for Education.” She is also advocating for teachers on Facebook.
Danks, a teacher for 20 years, said many educators are inspired to teach because they believe education is the key to a strong community.
“We put our hearts and souls into it,” she said, urging people to reach out to educators to find out how they can best support them.
De Leon said the popularity of Danks’ actions is a message to state and local education leaders that “we all have a stake” in making sure teachers have the tools they need to educate children.