Non-Profit Organization - TeachersCount

Interview with Diana Burroughs
Executive Director, TeachersCount

About when did TeachersCount start, and what is its mission?
We started TeachersCount in March 2001. Our mission is twofold: to raise the status of the teaching profession and provide services to the teaching community. Jones New York in the Classroom has been incredibly supportive and helpful in taking our campaign, "Behind Every Famous Person Is a Fabulous Teacher", to the next level. To date we have created more than 30 ads pairing different celebrities with their favorite teacher, and these ads have appeared in the Time Inc. family of magazines. We had a lot of requests from teachers who saw the magazine ads. "Is there any way we can get posters?" they asked. So we partnered initially with McGraw-Hill, and now with Scholastic and also Jones New York in the Classroom and the National Education Association (which is one of the two teachers' unions) to send out poster editions of the ads to schools nationwide. Last year we sent out 400,000 ads—50,000 of eight different images—and this year, when we moved over to Scholastic, we've sent out 100,000 of eight different images. So all together, we've sent out 1.2 million posters. This has been incredibly virally successful. We are getting 20 to 30 individual fulfillment requests from teachers per day. We're getting picked up in blogs. Teachers see the posters in other teachers' rooms and say, "I want to have those posters."

We also do other things to recognize the importance of teachers. With Marvel Comics and Office Max, we developed a nationwide contest, "Super Hero Teacher of the Year," and we produced 500,000 comic books. We partnered with Hallmark and created free teacher e-cards. We work with companies to promote the importance of the teaching profession.

In addition to its mission of elevating the status of the teaching profession and providing resources to the education community, TeachersCount has on its Web site an extensive section devoted to professional development. What are some of your major programs in this area?
We seem to get the most hits to our Web site in two different areas. One is the people who want to be teachers. We are one of the main go-to places for people who are interested in becoming a teacher. The other area is teacher discounts. We partnered with the largest affiliate discount provider in the country to offer the same kind of discounts for teachers that large corporations give their employees. We've partnered with both the AFT and the NEA, which are the two teachers' unions, so that teachers now get discounts from more than 20,000 vendors. We're very pleased that, in terms of providing services to the teaching community, we're providing a major service.

What has been TeachersCount's relationship with Jones New York in the Classroom?
Jones couldn't have come in at a better moment for us. They jump-started our "Behind Every Famous Person Is a Fabulous Teacher" campaign. What we were doing on a small scale, they were able to make happen on a large scale—and much quicker. They have been unbelievably supportive throughout. It's a strong partnership because both sides benefit. I feel proud that we're able to help brand Jones as being teacher-friendly in all the things we do, and we have been aided not only by Jones' financial support but by their advice and counsel as well.

Are there ways individual employees can get involved with TeachersCount, beyond Jones Apparel Group's support at the corporate level?
We have had their help at various points. When we had the Marvel/Office Max Teacher as Super Hero contest, we were told by Marvel Comics that we'd be lucky if we had 700 to 800 entries. We ended up with 5,000 because the unions really pushed it. Jones was great. Some of their employees donated their time and helped us winnow down the entries for the final judging committee. I'm sure that if individual employees are interested, we could figure out other volunteer opportunities. One way might be helping us spread the word about our posters; Jones Apparel Group employees can request free posters for their kids' school.

You've had an opportunity to work with many teachers in your role at TeachersCount. Is there one thing you'd like people to know about the teachers whom the organization supports, that maybe isn't well known?
People tend to think of teachers as a bloc. News is made by the aberration, not by the norm. People don't write about normal things; they write about news. So often the stories about teachers that we read in the paper are the horrible stories—the one teacher who is accused of rape or the one teacher who sits in the classroom and is drunk. It's frustrating to me because, having spent time in the classroom and seen teachers in action, I know how hard-working and how effective so many of them are. One of the things TeachersCount tries to do is emphasize the fact that teaching is a profession. We sometimes hear individuals say, "Oh, I can teach. Anyone can teach." And later they realize how truly difficult it is. You can't just "go teach." There is a real skill set involved. We would really like people to understand that teaching is a profession like other professions, and teachers should be respected for that.