A Generous Stranger Transformed A Teacher’s Life After She Shared Her Salary
Our future generations depend on this generation’s teachers. Unfortunately, today’s teachers aren’t paid substantially for their work. According to the National Education Association, the American teacher earns an average of $39,249 per year, and some states pay even less.
Teachers like Elisabeth Milich have to pay for their classroom supplies and feed their families. When Milich posted her salary on Facebook, she attracted attention from the entire nation–and one stranger who transformed her classroom forever.
The Teacher Who Started It All
In 2018, a second-grade teacher gained national attention over social media. Elisabeth Milich had taught at Whispering Wind Academy in Phoenix, Arizona for the past seven years. The 43-year-old cared for her three children as well as her kids in the classroom.
As a Title 1 school, Whispering Wind shelters low-income students and receives federal funding to meet its educational goals. But as Milich was about to reveal, these funds weren’t close to enough.
She’s Committed To Creating A Learning Environment
Anyone who walked into Milich’s classroom immediately embraced colorful decorations and a fun environment. She poured a lot of care and effort into her classroom and her students. But what parents didn’t know was that she drained a lot of her own money for her classroom, too.
Because Whispering Wind didn’t have enough funding, Milich paid for all classroom supplies herself. This includes notebooks, paints, markers, snacks, even a trash can–everything came out of Milich’s pocket.
Milich Sacrificed Far Too Much
Not only did Whispering Wind not supply basic tools, but Milich’s classroom didn’t have a closet. She had to store many of her supplies at home and bring them in when she needed them.
“I’m at Walmart buying my own garbage can for my classroom,” Milich said. “And I’m laughing as I’m pushing the cart because I’m like, ‘Only a teacher would have a garbage can for their classroom that they’re buying out of their own pocket.'”
But Milich Can’t Pay For Everything Alone
As you may expect, Milich’s lack of funds began to take its toll. With how little she was getting paid, she couldn’t afford all the school supplies she needed. She claimed that, if not for her husband’s income, she wouldn’t be able to provide for her kids.
“It’s hard to make a decision to spend money on your home, your own kids or spend money on your school kids that desperately need the help,” Milich told Good Morning America.
And Milich Wasn’t The Only Teacher Who Struggled
Unfortunately, Milich’s struggle with money is common. The National Education Association reports that Arizona teachers make $10,000 less than the national average. Arizona is the ranks 45th worst state for teacher salaries, an improvement from prior years.
According to a study by the National Center of Education Statistics, teachers nationwide spend around $480 every year out of their pockets. It’s no wonder that Arizona teachers are walking out to join districts in other states. Although Milich didn’t leave, she did do something extraordinary.
Just In Time: Red For Ed
In March 2018, Arizona teachers took their discontent to the streets. Hundreds of teachers swarmed Chandler Unified School District to protest their inadequate pay. And it wasn’t just Arizona; teachers nationwide left their jobs to advocate for better salaries.
At least 2,500 educators and supporters approached the state capitol to demand a 20% pay raise. The strike continued until lawmakers passed a $400 million increase to education funding. This national movement encouraged Milich to act.
She Received A Raise, But Was It Enough?
After Milich received a $131 raise, her salary still wasn’t enough. The Red for Ed movement and her draining funds sparked her motivation to act. “I think it just kind of snapped for me,” she said. “Like, ‘I make so little money, and yet I have to outfit my entire room.'”
After much thought, Milich decided that she had to act. How did she claim the attention of the entire country? Through Facebook.
Now Everyone Understands Her Struggle
On March 8th, 2018, Milich posted her job salary on Facebook. She only made $35,621 every year. To put this into perspective, Milich only makes $17.50 an hour–the same wage as many restaurant waiters. And this was including the $131 raise.
“I’ve debated about posting this,” she wrote in her status. “But in the end, I want to show what a teaching salary really looks like in AZ. I actually laughed when I saw the old salary versus the new one.”
Revealing Her Reality
“I paid $80,000 for a college degree, then I paid several hundred more to transfer my certification to AZ,” Milich continued in her post. “I buy every roll of tape I use, every single paper clip I use, every Sharpie I grade with… the list could go on.”
Milich added that, although she doesn’t teach for the money, she needs a better salary to care for her family. “I’m sad for my single mom teacher friends working three jobs to make ends meet.”
The Response She Never Anticipated
In only five days, Milich’s post garnered over 1,000 shares. Comments began pouring in faster than she could keep up. Local news outlets picked up the story. Most people seemed stunned at how little teachers make.
“That is the frustration,” Milich told PEOPLE. “That’s what prompted me to post it. But I had no idea it would have the effect it had. It ended up going viral.” Eventually, Milich’s impact spun out of her control.
However, Not All Responses Were Positive
Overall, Milich received hundreds of messages of support. Strangers encouraged her to keep up the good work and expressed outrage at her salary. But others weren’t so kind. Several users accused Milich of complaining or outright lying.
Because of this, Milich deleted her post. But her impact had already been made. National news outlets broadcasted her story on TV. Meanwhile, Milich attempted to move on with her life and ignore the drama.
But All She Needed Was One Person…
Over 2,000 miles away, New York City resident Ben Adam was watching Real Time with Bill Maher when Milich’s story came on. Like others who heard her story, Adam deeply identified with Milich’s struggles. Unlike others, he decided to reach out.
“I have three kids,” Adam said. “I’m a working person. I can’t imagine trying to live, buy supplies, and support my family on $35,000 a year.” Because he could put himself in Milich’s shoes, Adam decided to lend a hand.
With One Message, Milich’s Life Changed
Adam owns a real estate business and works as a freelance journalist on the side. He understands the impact that one community can make. “I thought to myself, I’m sure with all of the people that have seen her story on TV, in the paper, on social media and YouTube, somebody has contacted her to say they want to help,” he later said.
Adam found Milich on Facebook and send her a simple question: “Has anyone offered to buy supplies for your classroom?”
The Help Of A Stranger
Months after Milich posted the status, she had forgotten about the incident. But she remembered when she opened Adam’s Facebook message. Because she didn’t know what to say, Milich simply responded, “No.” Adam wrote back, “I would like to purchase any supplies that you need for your classroom.”
“I just thought that was so crazy,” Milich recalled. “And there’s gotta be a catch because this man lives in New York!” To her, Adam was a stranger.
Was It Too Good To Be True?
Because she didn’t know Adam, Milich doubted his intentions. She presumed that there must be a catch or that he was scamming her. When Adam responded, he asked her to create an Amazon wish list with everything she needed for her classroom.
Milich figured that the wishlist was harmless enough. If this didn’t turn out well, she could still use it for herself. She constructed a list and moved on with her day.
What Happened Left Her Speechless
A few days later, Milich stood dumbfounded in her classroom. Everything she had asked for had shown up in the mail. Adam sent all supplies to Whispering Wind, and Milich didn’t have to spend a dime.
“It has changed my life completely,” Milich later said. “It’s so humbling and kind; it just renews my faith in the human race. There are kind, kind people who want nothing in return.”
And This Wasn’t A One-Time Thing
“I thought it was a one-time thing,” Milich recounted. While she was grateful for receiving those packages, her current semester soon came to an end. Milich began budgeting to buy supplies for the following semester.
In December 2018, Adam approached her again. He asked her to make a list of everything she needed for the new semester. Just like the first time, he delivered all Amazon packages to the school. And again. And again. And again.
His Packages Impacted The Students
Adam’s donations not only blessed Milich, but they also brightened the days of her students as well. “We call him our New York friend,” Milich said in an interview. “[My students] are so excited when a package arrives to the classroom, and they can’t wait to see what it is.”
“I think he is the nicest person ever,” one of Milich’s students told a reporter. “He is our hero here at Whispering Wind Academy.”
Donations That Grew Contagious
Adam continued to supply Milich’s classroom with supplies. He described the feeling of donating as contagious, and he wanted to do more. “I’m sensitive to the people that get the short end of the stick without complaining,” Adam told Good Morning America. “Teachers work very hard and don’t get much in return.”
As time passed, Milich’s coworkers noticed that she was receiving school supplies for free. Little did they know that Adam’s generosity wouldn’t stop with Milich.
His Generosity Doesn’t End There
Eventually, Adam wanted to give back to more teachers at Whispering Wind. He asked Milich if other teachers at Whispering Wind needed more supplies. She knew that some of her coworkers had harder lives than her, so she spread the news.
As word spread, five other teachers assembled their Amazon wishlists and waited. Adam followed through. Students across Whispering Wind Academy received surprise packages filled with snacks, paints, markers, colored paper, signs, and many other goodies.
How One Person Became A Movement
As Adam sent school supplies to six teachers at Whispering Wind Academy, he worked to expand his project. In 2019, Adam created the website Classroom Giving. The site would link visitors to Amazon wishlists, where they could order supplies for teachers in Arizona.
“We are not asking for donations, and we are not raising funds, Adam clarified. “You can send whatever you can afford, and you know that item has gotten exactly to the person you sent it to.”
Influencing The Entire Country
In April 2019, Adam launched ClassroomGiving.org. The results exceeded his expectations. Within months, strangers fully paid for 37 teachers to stock up their classrooms. Soon afterward, Adam received requests from teachers in California, Washington, Alaska, and Colorado to add their lists to the website.
Adam’s page became the perfect charity for teachers. He describes it, “like a wedding registry meets Secret Santa, and there is no commitment.” Those who felt touched by Milich’s story finally found a way to help.
It All Started With One Teacher
What started as a Facebook post evolved into a generous offer, which developed into a community movement. Today, ClassroomGiving.org funds 1,500 classrooms in 48 states. And they still don’t accept donations or raise money.
Donors who give to classrooms are often thanked with sweet handmade thank you signs or cards from the students whose lives they’ve changed. Adam received plenty of those himself from funding Whispering Wind Academy.
And They’re Still Expanding
Currently, Adam is working to involve local businesses in his movement. He believes that by helping their schools, companies could become more connected with their communities. And without any long-term commitment, where was the harm?
Adam began calling businesses and organizations in the Arizona area. Throughout his nationwide work, though, he never lost contact with Elisabeth Milich. He acknowledges that she kickstarted this entire movement through a brutally honest Facebook post.
The Bond That Started It All
Throughout the journey, Adam continued to foster Milich’s classroom. Although they have never met in person, the two remain good friends. Milich called their relationship “an amazing partnership.”
Although Milich doesn’t know when they’ll meet, she knows how she’ll greet him. “I would give him a hug,” she declared. “I don’t know if he is a big hugger, but I would hug him and would just let him know what a difference he has made in my life and the lives of my students!”