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A PERSONAL MESSAGE FROM UPWORTHY
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Arnold Ford shares a birthday—and birthday joy—with one of his students.

When Arnold Ford went to work on his birthday in February of 2024, he knew he was in for a treat. One of his students, a girl named Cali, has the same birthday as he does, and Ford was ready.

As soon as he saw Cali come bounding down the hallway with her arms spread wide, the assistant principal tossed his backpack aside, swooped the girl up and spun her around in joyful celebration. Then the two raced down the hallway, arm in arm, so Cali could give him a balloon and a cupcake she had saved for him.

All of this was captured on the security cameras at west Philadelphia's Mastery Charter School, Mann Elementary, and the footage has people cheering for amazing educators.


"I’m so grateful to God for allowing me to see another year," Ford wrote when he shared the video on his Instagram page. "I’m even more grateful that LOVE continues to be the centerpiece of my entire life."

"And… as you can see… I’m also grateful that I get to share a birthday with one of my favorite students," he continued. "And yes… she brought me a balloon and a cupcake, and in exchange, I told her she could dress down today. Fair trade if you ask me!

Watch:

People are gushing over the exchange in the comments.

"Do y'all teach 25th grade!? I need an elementary school experience do-over!" wrote one person.

"Bro my own parents never been that happy to see me 😭," wrote another.

"Can you imagine marinating in that love on a daily basis? What a gift this man is!" shared another.

Several people pointed out that no one else in the video so much as blinked, which is a testament to the fact that this wasn't out of the ordinary. Clearly, Mr. Ford brings this energy to work every day.

"I think it’s important for us to celebrate WITH our students and families," Ford tells Upworthy. "[Cali's] birthday is a big deal to her, and so is mine. We talk about it ALL year. So when that day came, what you saw was just a natural, genuine reaction that we both had. She was excited to be celebrating me, and I was excited to be celebrating her."

Educators like Ford can make such an enormous difference in children's lives, transforming a school into a place filled with positive interactions where kids know people genuinely care about and enjoy being around them. That's what Ford loves about his job as well.

"It really is the reciprocal nature of the work," he tells Upworthy. "We get so much more than we ever put out. Love. Joy. Laughter. The more we sow those things, we see them return exponentially in this work. That’s why when I often say 'Love is the curriculum,' it’s because I recognize how blessed I am to be able to put positivity and joy at the center of my experience with them. It’s humbling."

"In other words, I love that I don’t have to wait until Fridays to get paid." he adds.

Here's to Mr. Ford and all of the dedicated, incredible educators out there who pour their love into helping children learn and grow and thrive. They really do deserve all the balloons and cupcakes—and all the pay raises as well.

You can follow Arnold Ford on Instagram.

Arizona provides less funding for schools than it did in 2008 and is ranked 49th in the country for teacher salary.

After months of rising tensions with state lawmakers over low pay and low funding, teachers walked out of schools April 26, 2018. In the second week of the strike, educators weren't backing down and planned to head to the state capitol to continue arguing for higher funding.

But even in the middle of a protest, teachers had their students' needs in mind.

Photo by Andrew Millett Photography.


"My friends and family believe in properly funding our public schools and making sure kids are affected by the walkout as little as possible," said Rodi Vehr, a first-grade teacher at Longview Elementary in Phoenix.

As teachers were preparing for the strike, they were making plans to help their students, too.

Thousands of city leaders and community members across Arizona were opening their doors to provide free or low-cost child care and meal services for the nearly 850,000 students whose schools were closed due to a statewide educator walkout.

Community members throughout the state worked together to plan meals for the 600,000 students who rely on free or reduced-price school meals. According to Vehr, her friends and family pooled their resources to buy and prepare $1,000 worth of meals for students to take home.

"They [legislators] keep saying that children should never be hungry, and we want to help make sure they aren't," Vehr says.

Elaine Glassman and Abbey Johnson crowdfunded money to provide 90 students with meals. Photo courtesy Elaine Glassman.

Elaine Glassman, a first-grade teacher in the Deer Valley Unified School District, put out a call for food donations on social media and was able to prepare meals for 90 students in the district. Glassman works in a Title I School, a federal designation for schools with a high number of students that come from low-income families.

"Sometimes they don’t even have dinner," Glassman says. "They’ll have breakfast and lunch at school, and then not eat until breakfast the next day."

After the first week of schools closures, her school announced it would open its cafeteria from 11 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. to serve students throughout the duration of the walkout. After it became clear the walkout would extend to at least a second week, most of the state’s 1,794 Title I schools arranged for meals to be available to their students as well.

In addition to meals, community organizations are finding ways to provide child care services to keep kids engaged and safe during school hours.

Photo courtesy YMCA Valley of the Sun, used with permission.

Peyton Tune, the chief operating officer for the YMCA Valley of the Sun, announced that its facilities would extend their daycare hours and reduce their prices until the end of the walkout.

"Nobody will be turned away based on an inability to pay," Tune says.

Photo courtesy YMCA Valley of the Sun, used with permission.

Arizona is far from alone in the ongoing battle for education funding.

Teachers in West Virginia were the first to strike this year, and their success — a 5% raise for all teachers in the state — inspired educators in Oklahoma (which secured a funding raise, too) Colorado, and Arizona to follow suit. The recent strikes are emblematic of America's larger issues with how it funds schools and how students and teachers lose when that funding isn't enough.

While they’ve expressed how much they miss teaching and working with their students, Glassman and Vehr say they’re committed to walk out of their schools and proudly wear their #RedForEd until their schools receive funding.

Until that happens, they have one message for students, families, and fellow educators: Stay strong.

Photo by Jeisenia Estrada.

Teachers are undervalued. We all know this.

I knew it when I decided to go into teaching as a profession 20 years ago. My idealistic young self didn't care that it wasn't a lucrative career — I just wanted to make a difference and help kids learn.

But when the reality of a five-figure student loan combined with a beginning teacher's salary hit, I realized that what we expect of educators isn't just unrealistic — it's insulting.


And it hasn't gotten better since then.

Teachers in West Virginia and Oklahoma are saying "Enough is enough."

Right now, the state of Oklahoma is looking at a teacher walkout scheduled for April 2, in protest of the state legislature's refusal to raise teacher wages. The walkout comes on the heels of a successful teacher's strike in West Virginia, in which public schools were shut down for nine days before legislators agreed to a 5% teacher raise, among other concessions.

Oklahoma's teachers haven't had a state-wide raise in 10 years. According to the National Education Association, Oklahoma ranks 48th for teacher pay, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they are dead last.

What does that look like in real dollars? The minimum starting salary in the Sooner State for a teacher with a bachelor's degree and no experience is $31,600. The minimum salary for a teacher with a master's and 25 years of experience is $43,950. And wrapped up in those salaries are the "fringe benefits" of insurance and retirement.

Teachers' per-hour pay is painfully low for what they do and for the skill and education required to do it.

One Oklahoma teacher calculated that at her current salary of $40,000, when all is said and done, she earns approximately $12 per hour. (The idea that teachers only work 8-hour days, nine months a year has been roundly debunked by every person who has ever been a teacher. Argue if you must, but this is a mountain I am willing to die on.)

Another Oklahoma educator took to Facebook to explain the reality of the teaching life in her state. Beth Wallis' viral, heartfelt post describing her day begins with her bank account being overdrawn because the gas company overbilled her. (Yes, an extra gas bill was enough to put her in the red.)

Then she describes her heartbreak over finding out one of her kindergarteners had died, and beautifully explains how deeply teachers care about their students:

"This is the third student of mine in four years that has passed and it never gets easier. We love these children, we care for them, we will protect them with our bodies from bullets and tornados. We watch every school shooting go by, wondering if our district will be next; wondering if we'd be able to save them all before inevitably getting shot ourselves. We wipe their noses and dry their tears. We hold their hands and do everything we can to make sure they grow up to be strong, successful adults. We stay after school for hours listening to middle and high schoolers crying over their parents' divorces or identity struggles, taking on the roles as therapist and advocate. We truly, genuinely, and deeply care for their happiness and wellbeing."

When you are a teacher, your students are like your kids.

I know that feeling. You can't do the work if you don't care deeply, which makes every loss, every heartache, every struggle your students experience weigh heavy on your heart.

Wallis goes on to describe the stresses students and teachers are under, and the tensions felt by all as districts weigh the consequences of a walkout. Then she lays out the reality of Oklahoma's education system and why the walkout is necessary:

"If you think this is about greedy Oklahoma teachers who drive Mercedes-Benzes and just put a down payment on a summer home, you're dead wrong. Our students don't have BOOKS, guys. Our classrooms are sitting 30 deep and my district has it MADE compared to any of the major public schools in the state (40-50 students per class). We had over 1,800 emergency certifications this last year in the state. You think your kids are being taught by the most qualified, experienced teachers? They're gone. The few of us who've stayed behind do it ONLY for the kids. Oklahoma kids DESERVE quality, compassionate education and I will provide that as long as I am able ... but that's not going to be forever. What if I were ever to want kids of my own? I can't even afford an extra gas bill, much less provide for a child. I'm nearly 30 with a Master’s degree and still live in a rent house with a roommate in a state with one of the lowest cost-of-livings in the country and I will never be able to afford an actual mortgage if I stay here.

Teachers should not be expected to be martyrs.

Finally, Wallis lays down what is, to me, the bottom line here. This is the part that too many people in our country — and certainly too many legislators — don't seem to have a solid grasp on:

"STOP EQUATING TEACHERS WITH MARTYRS.

We are professionals. We are trained, educated, hardworking professionals who deserve to be paid for the work we do. We're expected to work before and after our contracted hours every single day to get our grades in and plan for quality instruction, but most of us pray that our car can run off fumes just one more day? We're expected to take bullets for students but most of us can barely make rent?"

You don't understand the expectations placed on teachers from all sides unless you've experienced it.

I wish everyone could be a teacher for a year.

Please try squeezing in planning for an entire day of teaching, plus grading, plus dealing with a broken copy machine, plus using the restroom, all within a 45-minute period. Try not to do work in the evenings and on weekends.

Try to keep up with education and training on your own dime and your own time. Try making sure your students are able to learn effectively, despite their struggles with mental health, parents getting divorced, waking up to an empty refrigerator, and more. Try making do with the supplies in your classroom without dipping into your own pocket.

Meme via Education to the Core.

Try communicating with parents who may or may not feel the need to take an active role in their kids' educations. Try keeping your students engaged while also preparing them for endless standardized tests. Try keeping a room full of 6-year-olds quiet through an active shooter drill without scaring them to death.

Be a mentor. Be a counselor. Be a miracle worker. Be a shield. Do it all for one year and tell me teachers don't deserve to get paid more.

In my adult life, I've worked in various professions in addition to teaching. I remember my first day working as an office manager and marveling at the ability to go to the bathroom at my leisure. No job I've ever had has come close to the amount of work that teaching entailed, no job has ever had as much direct impact on our world, and in no other job did I feel so drastically underpaid.

As Beth Wallis points out, teachers are highly trained professionals, and they ought to be compensated as such. We should all stand with Oklahoma teachers, and with all teachers everywhere who have been expected to be martyrs for far too long.

Playing host to the 2017 NFL Draft set the city of Philadelphia back a pretty penny.

The NFL Draft crowd in Philadelphia. Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Bringing the massive event to town cost about half a million dollars, which doesn't sound like much until you factor in another $5 million or so in private funding the city worked to secure. Plus all the labor and logistics to put on a spectacle that attracted over 70,000 people its first night.


On top of that, the NFL itself is shelling out about $20 million more.

Most of the city — which is a big football town — is pretty excited about the whole thing.

But there's one group that has every good reason not to be.

Public school teachers in Philadelphia have been trying for years to negotiate a new contract. To them, the draft hoopla is a slap in the face.

And a bunch of them wanted to let City Hall know exactly how they felt about it.

They raised $2,500 for a special, uh, "welcoming banner" to fly over the draft stage.

Image via Hobbes579/Reddit.

The banner reads, "City hall (hearts) sports but hates our teachers."

George Bezanis, a teacher in the district and one of the organizers behind the effort, told NBC Philadelphia poor pay and instability has led many teachers to leave the district.

In fact, Philly teachers haven't received raises in four years or more.

All the turmoil, he says, is hurting students.

Photos of the banner went viral on social media and inspired a massive response from teachers, parents, and citizens across the country.

The three-day NFL Draft will likely be a huge boon to the Philadelphia economy.

Last year's event in Chicago reportedly netted about $81 million in tourism spending, so it's easy to see why the current administration is excited to host.

But in a time where billionaire sports owners make fans pay for their own stadiums, don't Philadelphia's teachers deserve their own slice of the pie?

Or better yet, don't our kids?