Alycia Zimmerman is a 3rd grade teacher and long time Feedbackland volunteer; DonorsChoose.org is thrilled to share her guest blog post below:
For the past several years, I’ve volunteered about one evening a month at the DonorsChoose.org headquarters. I help out in an area they’ve named “Feedbackland” – where all of the Thank-You Packages from funded classroom projects are logged in and mailed back out to the donors. With hundreds of Thank-You Packages arriving every day, there is nothing simple about this massive appreciation-operation. The Feedback team prides itself on a one-day turnaround for all Thank-You Packages, which means that it is an incredibly industrious hive of volunteers, interns, and staff members, all working together to pass along the thanks.
Meet Your Informant
I’m in my fifth year of teaching public elementary school, which I began as an NYC Teaching Fellow. I discovered DonorsChoose.org during my first year teaching; my very first funded project provided the materials for the only art projects that my students did that entire school year. When I switched to a different low-income school in the Penn South neighborhood of Manhattan, I walked into an empty classroom with even fewer supplies than my previous school. Through the incredible generosity of donors, I was able to outfit my new classroom and provide an enriching, high-end academic experience for my students ever since.
Now back to my Feedbackland exposé …
Of course I volunteer at DonorsChoose.org because I love giving back to an organization that has given so much to my students, an organization that doesn’t just talk about improving education, but that facilitates small, meaningful improvements every single day. But let me share some of the other, less noble reasons why I love volunteering too.
Reason #1: A Forced Exit Strategy
We dismiss our students at 3:40, and that’s officially when my workday ends too. However, my colleagues and I spend an additional hour or more grading student work, planning for upcoming lessons, and organizing our classrooms. Most days, I leave school around 5:30, but not on volunteering days. On my monthly volunteer day, I tidy up while the students are still in the room. I prep some lessons during my lunch period. And I walk out of the school by 4:00 pm! The sun is still shining, and I experience the displaced elation of a kid cutting class – time to volunteer!
Reason #2: Grown-ups Only, Phew!
After dismissing my wonderful, energetic third graders, I walk eight blocks uptown from my school into the heart of NYC’s fashion district to arrive at the DonorsChoose.org headquarters, tucked away on the second floor of a humble office building. Now as you know, I’m a teacher, and I love my job. But after a full day of teaching, it is a welcome novelty to spend some time in a kid-free office environment. Admittedly, DonorsChoose.org is hardly a stuffy workplace, with its robin egg blue walls and its come-as-you-are dress code. Nevertheless, the chairs are all full-sized, and everyone can use the bathroom whenever they want. For a teacher, this is a big deal!
Reason #3: The Friendly Staff
You probably won’t believe me, but everyone at DonorsChoose.org is friendly. Yes, I mean EVERYONE! I don’t know where they find all these people in this city of don’t-make-eye-contact, manners-are-for-sissies New Yorkers. Walking around the DonorsChoose.org office takes me back to my freshman year of college when I made my first Midwestern friends and was constantly amazed that people smile to begin conversations. It’s lovely being around so many warm smiles, plain and simple.
Reason #4: The Scanner
After I set up my wedding registry several years ago, I handed back my handheld barcode scanner with a sigh, assuming my days of barcode scanning were over. Not any more – last year, DonorsChoose.org set up a new system to “check in” Thank-You Packages using a barcode scanner for the mailing labels, and now I’m happily pointing and clicking away. I always get a secret thrill when I hold my scanner high and aim at a Thank-You Package with the flair of a Charlie’s Angel. Yes, I’m one fierce scanner-wielding teacher!
Signing Off …
I could go on with more self-serving reasons why volunteering is a great way to spend an evening, but if I can’t spill all my secrets. Let’s just say that they have snacks, students Thank-Yous have a high cuteness/hilarity quotient, and there’s an occasional Charles Best sighting. (I get star struck.) So fellow teachers, when you send in your Thank-You letters, know that there is a volunteer like me on the receiving end who is going to ooh and aah over your students’ handwritten epistles and darling artwork. (I’ll also moan when I’m showered in sparkling glitter, but donors surely like glittery cards, so keep it coming.) It’s rewarding to see the other end of the feedback loop behind every funded project, and it’s totally inspiring to see the amazing work my colleagues are doing in classrooms around the country, thanks to the generosity of DonorsChoose.org donors.