One of my favorite ice-breaker questions when I meet someone for the first time is "Can you tell me about a great teacher who made a difference in your life?" Without fail, I hear memorable stories about teachers who sparked a love of learning, who supported a student through a difficult time, or who just made coming to school something to look forward to. It's clear to me that one great teacher can be a catalyst -- with the unique ability to encourage and inspire hundreds of students over their careers.
I believe teachers are the most important members of the American workforce, yet they certainly aren't treated that way.
A few years ago, when I started our family foundation, I knew that supporting and honoring teachers would be my priority. With each project and grant we consider, I hope I'm answering the question "What can I do to make sure that great people go into the career of teaching, and stay in the career?"
Stockton, California (the county seat of San Joaquin County), is 80 miles from the heart of Silicon Valley, where I live, but it's a completely different world and is often overlooked as a place of high need. Educators in the region grapple with the issue of how to best educate a diverse group of students, including a significant number of English-language learners from low-income or transient families. Like other areas in California, San Joaquin is also facing a looming teacher shortage in the years ahead.
In spite of these challenges, I've met many passionate and dedicated teachers in this county who are committed to giving their students opportunities for success. And organizations like Teachers College of San Joaquin are doing so much to build community around best teaching practices.
With today's #BestSchoolDay funding, I want the teachers and students of San Joaquin County to know I appreciate all of their hard work and dedication. It shouldn't matter where students live or what their parents can afford -- every student should have the educational resources they need to succeed, and we shouldn't expect teachers to fill the gap.
For the past few years, I've established a holiday tradition of sharing DonorsChoose.org gift cards with friends and family to help spread the word about this innovative organization. I'm thrilled to be able to help introduce DonorsChoose.org to a much larger audience as part of today's philanthropic flash mob.
More exciting for me, though, will be hearing from the scores of teachers and hundreds of students in San Joaquin County who will benefit from this project.
And finally, in case you were wondering, here's one of my favorite teachers. In the words of Patricia, "Say YES!" to DonorsChoose.org today.
Karen Leshner is the president of Intrepid Philanthropy Foundation based in San Francisco, California.
This post is part of #BestSchoolDay, a national fundraising movement to ensure students have the supplies and opportunities they need to succeed. Visit here to see a map of all the classroom projects being funded and join more than 50 actors, athletes, entrepreneurs and philanthropists in supporting classrooms across America. To join the conversation on Twitter, use the hashtag #BestSchoolDay.