One In A Million: Tori Danielle

Name: Tori Danielle Thompson                      

School: R. E. Simpson School             

Grade: 5th-8thMusic/Band

We received over 900 votes in our first ever Feel Like a Million Dollars event that we hosted on May 22nd for Maryvale High School.   Both the faculty and the students voted on who they felt deserved to feel like a million dollars and you won!  How does that feel?

It feels, at once, exciting, humbling and encouraging to know that I am appreciated for what I do. Thank you so much!

What was the first prize you used out of the prize package you received?

The Expo markers. Students in every grade level start their class doing rhythmic exercises on the large whiteboard and personal whiteboards, which they get to modify and make their own to play as a class. Hundreds of students a day=hundreds of Expo markers a year.

How long have you been a teacher?

Just entered year 8.

What made you get into the teaching profession?
My love of music, voracious appetite for books, and desire to make a difference in inner-city communities by providing youth with creative outlets for their energy. Several of my relatives were musicians, and my mother’s library and CD collection were very extensive. The older children in my neighborhood who I looked up to were marching band members in schools who styled themselves after Big 10 and HBCU showbands. Others were heavy into hip-hop, and spent afternoons writing rap lyrics and producing beats in their makeshift studios. I was intrigued, and began writing and arranging myself. I marched and did concert band for all through high school and college, earning a Bachelor of Music Education from Jackson State University in Jackson, MS.

I fell into teaching folk song on accident. My first public school position was as a general music teacher. I attended a workshop for Kodaly methodology, which approaches GM through the singing of world folk music first, and fell in love all over again. I went on to earn Level II Certification as a Kodaly Specialist, and continue to teach my GM classes with this methodology as the foundation.  Since my student population is so diverse, I strive to find out their home countries and teach authentic folk music from each of them. It ends up being a blend of Music and Social Studies.

Who was your most inspirational teacher and why?

 My elementary school music teacher, Ms. Linares! I was a latchkey kid, and Ms. Linares always let me stay in her music room for 15-20minutes after school as I waited for my mother to come pick me up. She showed me piano basics, went further in depth with the world music lessons than she could during class, and showed me how to handle instruments responsibly. Playing a duet with her on the last day of 6th grade in her classroom was a “eureka” moment: she gets payed to have so much fun?

What do you think are some of the biggest challenges teachers in Arizona face right now?
FUNDING!!! Public school teachers are expected to manifest material miracles in classrooms with minimal budget. We ALL spend hundreds, sometimes thousands, of our own dollars annually to ensure that our students have what they need as far as books, supplies, and materials.

This funding issue particularly affects Title I schools at the base level because some of our classrooms are overcrowded, buildings and busses in dangerously ill repair, and sometimes have outdated curriculum.

How do these issues affect your day to day?
Some schools cannot afford to hire extra teachers to handle the excess, which can lead to behavior management issues. We are under a time crunch to spread our attention and one-on-one instruction evenly to all of our students, and the ones who need us the most  sometimes go underserved. Music units that should take 1 month sometimes take 6 weeks, because we have so many students to assess while “wrangling” the others!

In the past, I worked in a classroom that had untreated visible mold in the ceiling. An a/c system remained broken for nearly an entire semester waiting for repair budget to come through. Band practice was held in a classroom where temperatures soared past 100 degrees regularly.

Budget constraints mean I do not have enough concert instruments for all of my enrolled students. I have to find creative ways to engage all of my budding musicians while they wait their turn. Repairs are done in order of the most severe. Some students have instrument cases held together by duct tape. Teachers at other schools in the district with repair experience graciously volunteer their own time to fix the minor repairs.

My general music classes are VERY large, with one ELL class hovering around 35 students, all of whom speak at least 2 languages. Some of these students have experienced trauma. They would be better served by smaller class sizes and more counselors.

I have a running joke that I am a part-time grant writer, as I’ve applied for and secured thousands of dollars of materials and instruments for schools over the course of my career, and I am not alone. Programs such as, EarCandy, Mr. Holland’s Opus, fraternal organizations like Sigma Alpha Iota Music Fraternity, and your fine organization have been filling in the gaps, and I thank you for your generosity!

What does the $250 tax deduction for school supplies for teachers mean to you?

 It’s disrespectful! Let’s talk numbers:

$250 is the annual cost just to tune our school’s pianos.  Clarinet needs a re-pad? $150. Cracked xylophone bar? $40.  36 Expo markers in assorted colors to make word identification easier for ELL and SPED students? $36 a month.  Pair of maracas? $20. Tenor sax reed crack? $4 and a beginner probably will crack 10 more by semester’s end.  What other profession requires employees to spend so much money? Do nurses buy gauze and alcohol pads? Do warehouse workers buy their own forklifts?

The state of Arizona lost a court case a decade ago obligating them legally to a multibillion dollar payout to public schools. They are refusing to pay up, while simultaneously giving corporations millions of dollars in tax cuts. A business can write off millions in tax write offs, but I can’t claim a box of reeds? Disrespectful.

How are the expectations of becoming a teacher different than the reality?

We all enter the profession as a proverbial David armed with the slingshot of our optimism. We expect to “make a difference” and the students will respect us just because we are adults. Today’s teachers have to EARN every ounce of respect they are given from their 12-year-old clients.

Why do you think teachers burn out so quickly?

Not learning to “leave work at work” mentally and emotionally. Giving hundreds of people your energy daily is draining. There is never-ending planning, symphonic analyses, workshops, pedagogical research to do. I now know to set a work goal, stay at work long enough to reach it, then go home empty-handed. The disconnect is necessary to maintain my sanity.

It is even easier for core curriculum teachers to burn out. The standards and data analysis requirements have become so extensive, rigorous and stringent in recent years that they are constantly being evaluated and judged on their efficacy and professionalism. The job can take so much from a person, and isn’t over just because contract time is over.

What “fills your cup” when you’re running on empty?

 As Ms. Thompson, taking a weekend music teacher workshop. Teaching can easily happen in a vacuum. Attending a workshop with professional peers who have brand new songs, games, and pedagogy refreshes me, reminds me that I am one of many, of the joy that moved me to teach in the first place, and excites me to implement the new ideas into my curriculum.
As Tori, connecting with nature. When my spiritual gas light blinks orange, I make time to walk a trail, hike a mountain, meditate near water, go vegan for a weekend, camp in the woods, or attend a music festival in a park with friends. I am also a firm believer in “mental health days.” It’s called PERSONAL TIME OFF for a reason!

What are some of the most thoughtful and effective ways parents and the community can show gratitude?
SHOW UP. I don’t think parents understand how encouraging it is to teachers when parents and community members show up for school events. Attend parent-teacher conferences, return our phone calls, take an active interest in grades, volunteer to chaperone for field trips, pass out programs, bringing family friends to school concerts and festivals.
What is your wish for Arizona’s children?

I wish for them to have knowledge, wisdom, and understanding of how the REAL WORLD works outside of our classrooms. What is required to attain intergenerational mobility to lessen the NEED for so many Title I schools in the future. To understand the importance of investment, passive income, entrepreneurship and home ownership in building wealth. To have access to technology, training, and science education. To understand that they have a responsibility towards social justice. And, of course, I wish for all of Arizona’s children to develop an appreciation for the arts. Because Musical Arts, Visual Arts and Physical Arts express our humanity.

What additional support  or supplies do you need in your classroom and who do people contact if they want to help out?

Band instruments and supplies. I have far more students than I have instruments. If you have an old trumpet collecting dust in your attic, send it this way, please! Clarinet and saxophone reeds are also needed.

Ways to help:

This is my classroom’s crowd-funding page. Share this link with friends and family!

  • Drop off any [tax-deductible!] instrument or supply donation at my school.
  1. E. Simpson School, 5330 N 23rd Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85015

602.246.0699 front office, contact Susan Chavarria, Office Manager.

  • Tax-credit donations. You can donate up to $200 to a school, earmark it for a specific activity (such as band), and receive a dollar-for-dollar reduction in total tax owed!
  • Volunteer your time!
  • Contact me directly!
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MDTP Receives $2,000 in Grant Funding from Albertsons and The Pollination Project!

Million Dollar Teacher Project Receives $2,000 in Grant Awards From Albertsons Companies Foundation & The Pollination Project

Million Dollar Teacher Project would like to give our tremendous gratitude to both the Albertsons Companies Foundation and The Pollination Project for the grant funding they both have given us in support of our work of recognizing and supporting Arizona teachers.  Both companies gave us a contribution in the amount of $1,000 each.  These dollars will immediately help us impact over 900 teachers through our Take a Teacher to Lunch and Classroom Support Team programs by helping us continue to build capacity to expand those programs.  Our goal is to be a statewide program by the year 2020 and you support has helped us get a step closer.

Thank you!!!!

You can visit The Pollination Project website to read about their support of MDTP by clicking the link:

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One In A Million: Aran Kelly

One In A Million Feature Questions

Name: Aran Kelly

School: Alhambra High School

Grade:  9-12

Support Needed: Basic school supplies: especially…pencils, highlighters, notebooks, journals, printing cartridges (HP 62)


How long have you been a teacher?

Including subbing and teaching artist residencies – 6 years.
Certified: 2 years


What made you get into the teaching profession?

Having breakthroughs with students and seeing the lightbulb go off.
Both older brothers are teachers, so were my parents at one point.

I am a former special education student who has found an expressive outlet through spoken word poetry. I have developed IEP preparation curriculum which incorporates spoken word performance and poetic elements. The results have resulted in students students self stating that they felt empowered as they played an active role as the leader of the IEP meeting, as opposed to a fly on the wall which is how I remember it. This easy process builds student’s self confidence and produces individuals who can articulate their needs on their own, in a job interview. I want to empower students to be confident, educated, and successful citizens.


Who was your most inspirational teacher and why?
This is a tough question to answer because there has been more than one teacher who has inspired me during my academic career, and in different ways. I was inspired by my high school chemistry teacher, Dr. Thornburg, to sacrifice my lunch hour to help my students stay ahead; so long as they meet me half way. With Dr. Thornburg’s help, I passed high school chemistry with an A.


What do you think are some of the biggest challenges teachers in Arizona face right now?
Lack of support from the state level and lack of commitment to education. The state of Arizona spends more on prisons than it does on education. Consequently, the teachers in Arizona have all of their interest in keeping students out of prison while the state has all of their interests in putting students in there. On average, Arizona prison guards make more than teachers. As of April 29th, 2018 correctional officers in Yuma are paid $44, 333.


How do these issues affect your day to day?
A lot of the issues are beyond my control. Issues stem from poverty and poverty in the home. Racial and cultural differences come into play as well.


What does the $250 tax deduction for school supplies for teachers mean to you?
Not much unless I itemize. It’s basically an empty gesture, also it means that I still have to come out of pocket to pay for supplies.


How are the expectations of becoming a teacher different than the reality?
As a special education teacher I have extra duties to perform, things which were not included in the job description.

Bringing a duffel bag with extra clothes to class for the teen who wets himself, coordinating information on your prep from 3 different departments and getting signatures so an autistic student can be a ball boy for the basketball team all because the person who ran the Best Buddies program abandoned the post, and picking up the cap and gown on my lunch hour for a senior who is at home recovering from surgery have been parts of my reality as  a teacher. Being expected by the administration to perform duties that are above and beyond what is written in my contract has been part of my reality as a teacher.


Why do you think teachers burn out so quickly?
Illiteracy is a huge ineptitude for many of my students and literacy programs are costly, limited, or non existent. Lack of support for the teachers and students from the district and state are very evident. Frustration from the inability for teachers to provide what they need to teach their students is a problem. The demands placed on teachers deprive them of the time needed to look after themselves both mentally and physically. Teachers take work home with them and have very little spare time. Special Education teachers are particularly impacted by all of the deficits that prevent the expertise needed to address their student’s mental health issues. A lot of teachers have to take on second and third jobs to make ends meet. My second job is as an NCAA, collegiate water polo announcer.


What “fills your cup” when you’re running on empty?
Spinning records at home and writing poetry, plus, rocking microphones fills my cup.


What are some of the most thoughtful and effective ways parents and the community can show gratitude?
Show up to the IEP meetings and team up with teachers.

Support the “Red for Ed” movement and go to the polls in November. It’s time to vote out of office folks unwilling to invest in education. Funding programs, classrooms, the arts and teachers is an investment in all of our future.  Thank you to the parents and community members who showed up at the Phoenix Capital Building to support teachers and education at the end of April. Keep the rock steady.

What is your wish for Arizona’s children?

My wish for Arizona’s children is for them to feel like education really matters. I want them to know that they live in a safe state and country that cares about equipping them with the information, tools and skills to be successful in life. At the moment, I believe that children in Arizona schools are not convinced that the State and Country overall, have their backs regarding education and gun control.


Who do people contact if they want to offer you additional support or where do people send supplies if they want to make a donation to your class?
Thank you in advance, your support is appreciated and does make a difference.


My email address is:

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MDTP awarded Cox Charities Grant!

Cox Charities Grants $543K to Arizona Nonprofits Focused on Youth

Cox Charities has granted $543,250 in funding to 80 Arizona nonprofits, such as Center for the Future of Arizona and Million Dollar Teacher Project, with the majority of the funding coming from Cox Communication’s 3,200 Arizona employees.

“Cox is committed to making a difference in Arizona by giving back to the communities we serve,” said John Wolfe, senior vice president and southwest region manager for Cox Communications. “We are proud to make this donation to local nonprofits whose missions are to support and educate youth.”

Center for the Future of Arizona will use the grant funding to expand the organization’s Participatory Budgeting in Schools work, which invites high school students to learn democracy by developing ideas and voting on specific projects that will build stronger school communities.

“It’s not only an investment in the school, but an investment in our students’ critical thinking, communication, problem solving abilities and their buy-in and ownership of the school,” said a Phoenix Union High School District Principal.

The Million Dollar Teacher Project funding will aid in the organization’s work in the Alhambra Elementary School District through its Classroom Support Team model which puts together a team to help the teacher in creating more opportunities for diversified and differentiated instruction in the classroom.

Since the program began in 1996, Cox Charities has awarded more than $7 million Arizona nonprofits that focus on youth and education.

Posted By  to on October 2, 2018 (

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Birthday Boy! : Benjamin’s Second Birthday Party Fundraiser!


Benjamin’s 2nd birthday is already here, and you all know that a new year comes with new challenges and opportunities for growth. Benjamin the Owl has left the nest, stretched his wings, and leveled up his game in helping teachers gain increased recognition, support, and compensation for their invaluable contributions to our communities that often go unappreciated. Through programs like Take a Teacher to Lunch and Classroom Support Teams, Benjamin has been off to a great start supporting teachers, but we know Benjamin needs the proper nourishment and direction for his continued success.

To really help Benjamin out, we need your help to contribute to the only birthday present he so graciously requested: an awesome fundraiser to help teachers! Benjamin says we need to ‘help support students by supporting teachers,’ and this fundraiser is going to make all that happen and more.


Help us finish the Puzzle! The closer we reach our goal of $1500 the faster we can help Benjamin celebrate his birthday! (Check back on the social media pages to see the progress we make!)

You can help donate by contributing through Facebook or through our website if you do not have a facebook account.

Donations of $100 or more will gain a VIP invite to Benjamin’s Birthday Party!!

Click me to bring you to the Facebook Fundraiser!

Click me to Donate through the Website!

Be sure to follow Benjamin and MDTP on the social media here!

InstagramTwitter – Facebook

Who is Benjamin?

Benjamin the Owl was born in an abandoned roost in Central Phoenix. With very little guidance from his parents, Benjamin felt neglected and was unsure of his purpose when the day would eventually come to spread his wings and leave the nest. Benjamin was a lonely owl at school. He was extremely intelligent and kind, but nobody wanted to befriend him. One day, Benjamin was approached by a teacher that inspired him to use his incredible smarts to help provide for his parents and attend college. This teacher also helped Benjamin make friendships that he thought were inaccessible. Benjamin was ever grateful for this teacher, who upon further examination was struggling to pay the bills and her voice neglected. The moment Benjamin realized that a teacher’s job to educate and inspire wasn’t being taken seriously by society, he found his passion and his purpose for his life. Benjamin has been a teacher’s greatest ally for two years. His philosophy on bettering the conditions of teachers consists of three pillars: recognition, support, and compensation. By bettering these three areas, teachers only feel more passionate and inspired by their work, and can provide a higher quality of education for their talented students. Benjamin always says that “we support students by supporting teachers.” Benjamin is looking towards expanding his mission by taking the good fight nationwide in the next few years so he can impact as many teacher’s as possible. However, as superb an owl Benjamin is, he is only one owl and cannot do everything alone. Benjamin needs help spreading his message, and you can help by supporting the work of MDTP by donating, volunteering, or even directly working for the growing organization.

If you want to learn more about Million Dollar Teacher Project and the great work it’s doing with Benjamin, check out this short, but inspiring video!



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One In A Million: Debbie Kunes

Name: Debbie Kunes
School: Phoenix Coding Academy
Grade: 9 & 11

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One In A Million: Monica Baird

Name: Monica Baird          

Granada East

5/6th Special Education

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One In A Million: Maria Madrigal

Name: Maria Madrigal

School: Granada Primary

Grade: 3

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One In A Million: Holly Purtell

Name: Holly Purtell

School: Maryvale High School

Grade: Senior English

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One In A Million: Amy Ball

Name: Amy Ball           

Madison Traditional Academy

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