A billionaire math genius uses his own money to give hundreds of teachers a $15,000-a-year raise.
Jim Simons might be the richest man you've never heard of.
Dubbed the world's smartest billionaire by the Financial Times, Simons made obscene amounts of money, in large part, by being better at math than pretty much everyone else.
In the early 1980s, Simons started a hedge fund. But instead of hiring the usual finance experts...
...he decided to work with mathematicians and scientists to build algorithms to model the behavior of markets to determine the best investment strategy.
His plan totally worked.
As of September 2015, Simons was the 76th wealthiest person in the world, and his former company was worth over $22 billion.
So yeah, dude knows a thing or two about the importance of math and science.
But even more importantly, dude knows a thing or two about the importance of people who teach math and science.
Since 2003, Simons has been using a portion of his vast fortune to do something unusual: increase the salaries of New York City math and science teachers the tune of $15,000/year. Each.
His organization, Math for America, currently pays around 1000 standout New York City public school STEM teachers the annual stipend. Just because they're awesome.
"Instead of beating up the bad teachers, which has created morale problems all through the educational community, in particular in math and science, we focus on celebrating the good ones," Simons said in a recent TED interview.
Teachers in New York City are invited to apply annually for the fellowship.
The organization doesn't look at test scores. Instead, it tries to find educators who have strong backgrounds in their content area, excellent teaching skills, and empathy for students. Those admitted receive the $15,000 stipend each year for four years and are invited to re-apply at the end of the fellowship.
Publicly dissing teachers has become kind of fashionable, especially in politics.
Calls to weed out bad-apple teachers, break up teachers unions, and determine pay based on test outcomes have grown loud in recent years. Between 2000 and 2013, the average teacher salary actually declined, when adjusted for inflation.
"It's hard right now to be really excited to be a teacher nationally," Megan Roberts, executive director of Math for America, told Upworthy. "We really think that, especially in STEM, our role is that we really want to value excellence in teaching and we want to do everything we can to keep teachers in the classroom."
Simons and his staff know that teaching is a important, complicated, and difficult profession — and that part of attracting the best people is making them feel valued.
That means not only paying them more, but giving them opportunities for continued skill development and a strong professional network.
"I hear people say all the time, 'Oh, he's just a teacher.' Or, 'I'm teaching now, until I do something else,'" Roberts said. "So nationally, the conversation across the country has always been that it's either a field where people go to if they can't do something else, or it's something they do as a pathway to something else."
"Teaching is enough. It's more than enough."
Math for America hopes that Simons' generosity can serve as a national example.
Despite having extensive resources, one man can only do so much. In order to improve the state of America's classrooms, Math for America works to make changing the conversation around teaching a priority nationwide.
"A huge number of our teachers say that they only stay in the classroom because of Math for America," Roberts said.
In the meantime, cheers to Jim Simons for demonstrating what respect for teachers, and the hard work they do, looks like.
"When someone like Jim Simons puts his energy behind a really important initiative on education, it's just profound," Roberts said.
Somewhere in New York City, a few thousand public school teenagers are rolling their eyes.
But secretly, I'm sure they couldn't agree more.