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'Mad Men' and 'Queer Eye' Stars Among Those Fundraising for Teachers on Instagram

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.  

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.

"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.

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