The latest Instagram challenge doesn’t involve Tide Pods or viral dance moves—instead, celebrities are calling on their followers to buy supplies for school classrooms, with the hashtag #10FeaturedTeachers.
Ed Droste, a member of the indie-rock band Grizzly Bear, started the campaign in August, after a teacher friend in Los Angeles explained to him that many educators pay for school supplies themselves. Droste found this phenomenon “insane, considering how teaching is one of the hardest, most underpaid jobs in the nation,” he wrote in an Aug. 30 post.
Growing up, Droste said, he attended a private school where both of his parents were teachers. “In my privilege I was very unaware of how desperate a majority of classrooms are for supplies, and that the burden fell on the teacher’s own pocketbook,” he wrote.
Droste asked teachers in underserved areas to send him a private message through the platform with a link to product wishlists on Amazon. He featured 10 of the teachers on his Instagram stories and asked his followers to purchase items on the linked lists.
The trend soon caught on with other celebrities: Actresses Kristen Bell, Busy Philipps, and Kiernan Shipka, musician Beth Ditto, and reality television personality Jonathan Van Ness all asked teachers to message them as well, and each of them chose 10 educators to highlight.
View this post on Instagram #10featuredteachers time!!!! If you're a teacher in need of school supplies, DM me a pic, your story and your amazon wish list!!! I'll post to my followers and we will all help get you what you need!!! Yay for teachers!!!👩🏫👨🏫👨🎓👩🎓✂️🖍✏ A post shared by kristen bell (@kristenanniebell) on Sep 21, 2018 at 5:23pm PDT
The “featured teachers” have taken to Instagram, too—posting photos of the literal truckloads of supplies shipped to their homes and schools, and sharing emotional messages of gratitude.
Kristen Johnson, a 5th grade math and science teacher at Sinclair Lane Elementary in Baltimore, was the first teacher chosen by Bell. She asked for school supplies, but also basic necessities—like umbrellas, so that her students who walk to school wouldn’t have trouble getting there in the rain.
Soon after her story went live on Bell’s Instagram, the post office called. They told her that so many packages had come in for her they couldn’t deliver them all—she’d have to come pick them up.
View this post on Instagram Here is our first teacher of #10featuredteachers ... meet Kristen! Here's her story in her own words: "Hi Kristen! I'm a teacher in Baltimore City. I teach 5th grade math and science.Students at my school really need basic supplies. Recently a student told me she couldn't come to school when it was raining because she has to walk and she and her sisters don't have umbrellas, so umbrellas are on my list too. Thanks for helping teachers!" Let's make sure Kristen's students have what they need- especially ☔️! The link to her amazon wishlist will be in my bio all day long! Thank you everyone for pitching in 📚✂️🖍💪🏻 A post shared by kristen bell (@kristenanniebell) on Sep 22, 2018 at 11:58am PDT
View this post on Instagram Crazy day today!!! Getting alllll of these packages! I even got filmed by CBS evening news!!! Thanks for everything, I only cried once today... and thanks to my family and friends for helping me transport and carry everything in. @kristenanniebell #10featuredteachers A post shared by Kristen (@twingurl88) on Sep 24, 2018 at 3:49pm PDT
“I just wanted to thank everybody again, and I’ve already finished crying ... I actually can’t believe what’s happening,” she said in a video posted on her Instagram account.
This campaign is just the latest celebrity-led donation effort for educators. In 2016, a group of actors, athletes, and philanthropists joined forces for #BestSchoolDay, pledging $14 million to fund more than 15,000 projects on the teacher crowdfunding website DonorsChoose. Stars like Stephen Colbert and Ellen DeGeneres often make surprise donations to schools and classrooms in need.
Teachers’ responses on social media have been overwhelmingly positive. But campaigns like these also underscore just how many educators say that they have unmet needs in their classrooms.
Classroom conditions and lack of resources were flashpoints in this spring’s teacher strikes. On social media, teachers shared photos of textbooks falling apart at the seams and desks they had to purchase at auctions. Most recent federal data show that 94 percent of teachers spend their own money on supplies for their classrooms without reimbursement from their district, at an average of $479 a year.
Amazon, which #10FeaturedTeachers participants are using to purchase supplies for the teachers, already captures a lot of this business. A recent survey by Agile Education Marketing and SheerID of about 500 teachers found that Amazon is the retailer they shop with the most frequently. More than 500,000 people have signed a petition on Change.org asking Amazon to cut the price of its Prime membership in half for teachers.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.