We recently connected with Juanita I. Harris and have shared our conversation below.
Hi Juanita I., thanks for joining us today. How did you come up with the idea for your business?
Teaching is rewarding, but teaching is hard. Can I start there? I began my teaching career in 2010 as a second grade teacher. As all of us know, change is inevitable and over the years I was moved to different grade levels, some with my consent, and others without. In my 8th year in my beloved profession, I found myself in a space where I couldn’t do anything right. Even though I was being celebrated in my district, city, and state, I was being continually bullied on my campus. The things that happened to me weren’t illegal, but unethical, and beyond that just plain wrong. Things became so difficult that I had to negotiate with myself to get up and go to work everyday. When I got to work, negotiations commenced once more so that I could find the strength to get out of the car. One day after work I called my sister and told her about the stress that I was under. I told her Teachers needed a support group and she encouraged me to start one, and thus Teachers Support Teachers was born. I thought the challenges I was enduring were just on my campus, but when I spoke with another colleague in a different city and state, I saw that we possibly had a national issue on our hands with the way educational front-line workers were being treated. We officially began Teachers Support Teachers in June of 2019. Our mission is to live out our vision of “Encouraging the Hearts that Shape the Minds.” We do this by providing one opportunity per month for self-care for classroom teachers and anyone in a Pre-K 12 setting that spends at least 85% of their instructional day with children. Our board of directors is comprised of a financial investor, classroom teachers, a librarian, a regional marketing director, and a recruiter for a local university. We are a diverse group of individuals who truly understand the truth that many of our teachers are overwhelmed, overlooked, overloaded, underappreciated, and grossly underpaid. We begin the academic year in August, but Teacher Appreciation Day isn’t until May. Do you see the issue with that as we did? That’s a long time to wait for a thank you that may never come. It felt as if people noticed that we were drowning, yet declined to throw us a vest or flotation device. We (Teachers Support Teachers) set out to make Teacher Appreciation a monthly moment instead of an annual event. We have facilitated moments that include, but aren’t limited to: The Teachers Lounge (group therapy session with a licensed counselor), The Thank-A-Teacher Celebration (drive through cookout free to educational front-line workers), Spa-tober (where teachers across the nation are sent to get pedicures), Virtual 5k (global fundraising initiative/effort to bring the nation outside to walk alongside educators), and we also host a Teacher School Supply Buffet (where we give teachers the school supplies we consume and are sometimes responsible for purchasing). As a Kindergarten teacher I overstand (much deeper than understand) how much an entity like this is needed. One of our goals in addition to appreciating educators is to increase teacher retention. There is a huge push to recruit, but if we do not retain the wealth and wisdom that we have in our buildings, who will train the novice educators that enter the profession? There are some things we face that no course can prepare us for. We need veteran teachers and Teachers Support Teachers is doing our part. For more info on how to partner with us visit www.wesupportteachers.com
Juanita I., love having you share your insights with us. Before we ask you more questions, maybe you can take a moment to introduce yourself to our readers who might have missed our earlier conversations?
I am a 34 year old native of Texarkana, Arkansas who loves Jesus, her family, her friends, and children! There’s much more that I love, but that’s definitely my top 4. I have over a decade of experience in the field of education. In 2006, I graduated from Arkansas Senior High School. In active pursuit of furthering my education, I graduated from Southern Arkansas University with a Bachelors of Science degree in Early Childhood Education, followed by a Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction. While in Texarkana, I’ve written grants and received financial support for my classroom project, “Everyday Economics: Earn Money, Spend Money, Learn Economics”.
In 2013, I received the Early Career Award from Kappa Delta Pi in 2013. Because of continuous enhancements to my Everyday Economics program, I earned the Bessie B. Moore Economics Educator Award in 2017. Also during that school year, I was recognized as Union Elementary Campus Teacher of the Year.
In May of 2018, I was awarded Texarkana Arkansas School District’s Teacher of the Year, through which I was afforded the opportunity to apply for the 2019 Arkansas Teacher of the Year Award. I was selected as 1 of the 14 regional finalists.
In November of 2021, I received the Civic Award from the Arkansas Education Association for my contributions to the field of education as well as my advocacy work for staff and students alike. Also in November of 2021, I became a first time published author! My first book is entitled I Talk to God About You. It is a dynamic devotional filled with prayers for our future husbands, thought-provoking questions to help us with the weight of our wait, and prayers for us as single women growing through this process. You will find 40 sincere and heartfelt prayers that I have offered up to God on behalf of my future husband. The prayers address everything from his relationship with his family, to his relationship with his finances, and everything in between. If marriage is something you desire, as I do, I encourage you to read these prayers, intentionally laced with scripture, and talk to God about your future husband. Hebrews 14:6 says, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” I don’t believe we should just go to God, but go boldly! To order your copy, stop by Amazon.com
My passion for teaching does not stop in the classroom; I is also a member of the inaugural cohort of Teach Plus Arkansas Policy Fellows. This fellowship grows and empowers teacher leaders to create equitable educational systems for students by strengthening and elevating our teacher voices beyond our classrooms. The common threads in everything I mentioned above are: faith, family, and stability for our future. Serving others is a blessing to me and those I serve alongside. We simply want to leave things better than we found them.
Since I am a teacher and several of our Teachers Support Teachers board members are as well, we provide moments, by the grace of God, that are what teachers need and appreciate. We have local and global fundraisers to fund these moments. We are creating a non-profit arm and are always happy to accept financial partners. Rest assured, we have the plan for the funds when they arrive. As mentioned, I am a Kindergarten Teacher, so my passion for this entity is real. When I advocate for teachers, it hits home with me because this isn’t just another cause, it’s our cause. My colleagues and I have been through a lot the past couple of years, and we are doing our best to let them know we see them and hey aren’t alone.
Have you ever had to pivot?
One week after we launched our business, we had to pivot because the pandemic rocked the United States and completely took it by storm. After our 1st Annual Fundraising Gala, we planned to have a moment for educators that involved free childcare for an hour at the end of Teacher Appreciation Week 2020. To bring this moment to pass we connected with an organization that agreed to feed up to 350 children for free, and we also connected with a company that specializes in bounce houses/children’s parties. We were going to call it The Conference Period and teachers were going to be able to bring their children (the children who were in their care) to a designated location for an hour and take care of whatever they needed to do. We also had an option for educators like myself, who don’t have children yet. They would be able to pick up a free meal/stay and enjoy the games. When everything turned upside down, we shifted our model. We pivoted to a drive through family cookout. We partnered with a local business and he agreed to feed educators for $10 per person. We were able to cover the bill for 100 educators. The moment was complete with music, beautiful decor, love for educators, and delicious cuisine. We shifted our presentation because gathering was no longer safe, but educators needed love and appreciation more than ever before.
How’d you build such a strong reputation within your market?
The main thing I believe helped and helps me build my reputation within my market is that I am a teacher. I am not someone outside of education who is seeking to monetize situations only to pocket the money and not do what was stated. I am a Kindergarten Teacher that thoroughly understands the weight of what we are carrying. We do our best to carry it well, but that doesn’t negate the fact that it is heavy. When God gives me opportunities to advocate for teachers and ask for funding, I am able to speak with clarity and conviction because this is my life. I know how it is to be so stressed because of work that you cannot remember everyday things like places, addresses, and phone numbers. I know what it is like to be expected to perform at a high level while simultaneously being treated as if you’re less than. I’m not an outsider, this is my life and I know how much teachers grow through, and by the grace of God, I’m connected and connecting to people who see the value in Teachers Support Teachers and don’t mind partnering with us to lift the heads of educational front-line workers across the nation.
- Website: www.wesupportteachers.com
- Instagram: @wesupportteachers
- Facebook: @TeachersSupportTeachers2019 and @ITalktoGodAboutYou
- Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/teacherssupportteachers
- Twitter: @wespprtteachers
- Other: linktr.ee/TheAmieGardnerBookClub (To order copies of my newly published book, I Talk to God About You.)
All event photography was captured by Tony and Shauna McClain of McClain Media