WE Teachers

Young people today are facing what seems to be greater exposure to complex issues like mental health, bullying, and youth violence. As a result, teachers are required to be well-versed in far more than school curriculum to ensure students are prepared to face the world inside and outside of the classroom. Acting as more than teachers, but also mentors, counselors, and cheerleaders, they must be equipped with practical and relevant resources to help their students navigate some of the more complicated social issues – though access to such tools isn't always guaranteed.

Take Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, for example, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years, and as a teacher for seven. Entering the profession, she didn't anticipate how much influence a student's home life could affect her classroom, including "students who lived in foster homes" and "lacked parental support."

Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

So what resources do teachers turn to in an increasingly fractured world? "Joining a professional learning network that supports and challenges thinking is one of the most impactful things that a teacher can do to support their own learning," Anglemyer says.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

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After four years of teaching, Stephanie Hosansky felt prepared to tackle any challenges the new school year might bring. She had instilled harmony in difficult classroom environments, counseled concerned parents about their children's performance, and worked many late evenings creating lesson plans that would challenge and inspire her students.

As she entered her fifth year in education, she was confident and excited – especially since she would begin the year at a different school with a new group of eager, young students. However, after a few weeks at Hardy Williams Elementary in Southwest Philadelphia, for the first time in her career, Hosansky began to doubt her ability as a teacher.

Her students came from varied backgrounds, many from communities affected by violence and poverty. She quickly realized that these external factors, which were circumstances beyond her and her students' control, often impacted their ability to succeed in the classroom. Students had a hard time maintaining focus on their assignments, there were several incidents of bullying, and Hosansky sensed her new students were skeptical that she would stick around.

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Photo by Jonny Mansfield on Unsplash

Take a second and think about your favorite teacher. Regardless of how long it's been since you stepped foot in a classroom, it's likely that you have fond memories of one teacher, or several, who made a lasting impact on your life. They went above and beyond because they cared, supported you through challenging times, and inspired you to reach for your dreams.

For Celina Lee, now a career coach, lawyer, and author, it was her eight grade English teacher, Mr. Weiss, who stood up for her when she didn't know how to stand up for herself, and helped her find her voice.

Courtesy of Celina Lee

"I was tortured by ongoing bullying when I was in middle school because I had come from South Korea and didn't speak English well," said Lee. "One morning I went to see him to tell him it was just impossible to finish all the homework, including an essay he had assigned. He listened to me with patience. Then he looked me in the eye, and with intention, he said, 'Celina, you can do this.'"

Several days later, to Lee's amazement, Mr. Weiss declared in front of the classroom, "We have a wonderful writer in our class. Celina, why don't you read your essay out loud for everyone?"

"I was stunned," said Lee.

She finished reading her essay and the class applauded. Many years later, this moment still sticks with Lee.

"After that day, school wasn't so bad anymore. His belief in me changed the way others saw me, and how I saw myself. It took just one instance of encouragement at a critical moment to make all the difference."

Teacher satisfaction undeniably comes from students mastering a curriculum, but educators also derive tremendous fulfilment in "ah ha" moments or life lessons that mold students into strong, tolerant, confident, and happy people.

Adam Cole taught choir at a Georgia middle school until 2006. His proudest accomplishment even today: helping students overcome interpersonal challenges and reach their true potential.

Photo courtesy of Adam Cole

"In addition to getting my kids ready for all their choral performances, I felt an obligation to work on their self-esteem and confidence," Cole said. "We had a tradition that in the last five minutes of every class, anyone who wanted to could come up and perform whatever moved them. This was a great experience — not only for the most outgoing students, but also the most shy."

Cole remembers one student in particular:

"I had a young man who started with me in sixth grade. He was a nice kid, friendly, and a little uncomfortable socially. It was clear he wanted to be outgoing and charismatic, but had no idea how to be," said Cole.

Over the course of three years, Cole would coach the young man on eye contact, posture, and presentation.

"By the eighth grade he was nothing like the kid I met years before. The thing that made me happiest was that, when he came up to the front of the room, he was charismatic. Any time I can see firsthand how powerful our work actually is, it makes me proud, and it makes me want to fight for us and for our students."

Although teachers may be tempted to shrug it off as "just part of the job," these moments are truly special. The attention and commitment given to each student to help them grow ties teacher and student together in a transformational way.

For veteran educator Allison Bruning, helping a student embrace her cultural identity created a lifelong bond.

Photo courtesy of Allison Bruning

Bruning was teaching second grade in Fort Stockton, Texas when she learned one of her incoming students was Mary*, a sweet girl, but very shy and struggling with Language Arts, who happened to live on the Navajo reservation.

"I could tell something was bothering her. Even though she was very nice, she had a hard time making friends," said Bruning.

Eager to help her student, Bruning met with Mary's mother and learned that Mary had struggled on the Reservation as well, wanting nothing to do with her cultural heritage. Mary was in a school where she, her sister and her parents were the only Native Americans.

"I felt it was very important for a student to master his or her first language before trying to conquer a second one," said Bruning.

To help Mary connect with her heritage, Bruning assigned her a special project where she would have to learn a new Navajo word each week, then present that word and its meaning to Bruning every Friday. Over time, Mary's appreciation for her culture and language grew. She learned more Navajo words and, in doing so, was also able to increase her English Language Arts ability as well. Mary's confidence had developed to the point where she asked her teacher if she could give a demonstration to her class about her culture, dressed in her traditional Navajo clothes.

Mary's skills advanced quickly; soon she was reading above her grade level and returned to the Navajo reservation at the end of the year where she continued to thrive. She graduated with honors from high school last year and is now in college.

"Culture is very important and is lost forever if it is not passed down to the next generation. I was proud to help a child appreciate her heritage. And I was even prouder to have been invited to her high school graduation last year," said Bruning.

Incredible and inspiring teachers are all around us. But today's teachers often do not have the resources and support to tackle issues that students face, such as mental health and wellbeing.

That's why Walgreens has launched WE Teachers to provide teachers with tools to help their students thrive. Special learning modules developed in partnership with the ME to WE Foundation and Mental Health America provide no-cost training to help teachers navigate the tough social issues into the classroom, including youth violence, diversity and inclusion, mental health and wellbeing, poverty, and bullying.

Teachers have more tangible needs as well, as it's not uncommon for educators to spend their own money to purchase classroom supplies.

Through Walgreens WE Teachers Award, part of WE Teachers, you can nominate educators who go above and beyond like Mrs. Bruning, Mr. Cole and Mr. Weiss to receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. At least 500 nominated teachers will receive a WE Teachers Award. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, visit walgreens.com/metowe. Teachers can apply, too.

When you shop back to school at Walgreens, you're joining their commitment to support teachers and schools across America. When we support teachers, the future is brighter for all of us.

WE Teachers
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