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Meet Melanie Harper of Here4Teachers

Today we’d like to introduce you to Melanie Harper.

Melanie, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
Here4Teachers has been a brainchild of mine since the late 90’s when I was a new teacher. I hadn’t officially named it yet, but I knew there needed to be a business focused on rewarding teachers because I saw not only how hard I worked to ensure student success, but also how hard other teachers worked…often at the expense of their own families.

I began my educational career as a caseworker for a non-profit where I encouraged students labeled “at-risk” to see the rewards and benefits of education. As we were partnered with public schools, I was housed in a high school. I remember going to get a student in Reading class, and not wanting to interrupt the lesson, I waited for the student within the class.

Appalled by the teaching I saw, I determined right then and there I could do better than the teacher was doing! So, at the end of the school year, I resigned and went back to school full-time at Texas Woman’s University to get my teaching certification in Secondary English.

I couldn’t afford to student teach because I needed a salary, so I had to convince a district to hire me as a teacher of record and continue to be observed by the university for one school year. It was called the “Internship Program”, which I don’t even think is around anymore.

Fort Worth ISD hired me and I taught middle school English at William James Middle School for two years. During that time, I was selected out of hundreds of teachers in Fort Worth ISD to be a part of a small English as a Second Language (ESL) cohort where we took classes and received our ESL endorsement after passing the state certification. I also became team leader my second year on my campus for the eighth grade team at my principal’s request.

I had gotten a taste of leadership, and decided I wanted to pursue my master’s degree. Because my parents were from Indianapolis, IN and I had a ton of family there, and because at the time I wanted each degree I obtained from a different university in a different state, I moved to Indianapolis, IN where I taught in Pike Township as an ESL teacher for a year, then a high school English teacher for two years while beginning my master’s degree in Educational Administration at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI).

However, the winters killed me! So, after three years of shoveling what I call “dinosaur mounds” of snow off and under my car, I moved back home to Dallas…without completing my master’s degree!

Moving back, I started teaching at Lincoln High School as an English teacher. I had been teaching there for two years when my principal suggested I apply for a new cohort program through The University of North Texas (my alma mater)! I was selected as 1 of 30 out of hundreds of applicants and began Dallas ISD’s first M.Ed. in Educational Administration with a principal certification cohort program! That program afforded me an opportunity to develop great friendships with teachers who are all now in some leadership capacity throughout Texas!

After completing the program, I became an assistant principal in Waxahachie, Texas at the high school during which time I also married and became pregnant…and that’s when the trajectory of my life totally changed!

Gone were my fast track goals of becoming a principal, obtaining my doctoral degree and superintendency certification! I opted instead to become a stay-at home mom–but continued working part-time in education in some capacity either in the writing department at Mountain View College, as a testing coordinator in Dallas ISD’s State & National Assessments Department, or as a teacher trainer in the Alternative Certification department.

When my now ex-husband and I divorced, I wanted to continue homeschooling, so I taught myself coding, and became a web designer and blogger for extra income while also substitute teaching! So in essence, becoming a mom, and becoming a web designer changed my mindset from wanting to work for someone to wanting to work for myself to serve others.

So, I moved past my false fears and went forward with a desire I had 20 years prior and founded Here4Teachers!

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Working for yourself is never a smooth road. My biggest struggle right now is finding sponsors to fund my vision. As I am what I call a socialpreneur (see a need fix a need) and am a for profit company, many companies have pushback because I am not a non-profit.

However, as companies are beginning to understand how I can put their brand in front of hundreds of teachers within five school districts AND that teachers are loyal especially when they discover a brand has their best interest at heart, companies are slowly becoming more receptive to coming on board as sponsors. And who doesn’t want to reward teachers??!!

But, all in all, I have to say, all that and the struggles of maintaining a business while juggling single-parenting, do not outweigh the rewards of flexibility, time with my children, meeting great people and developing heart-warming relationships, and giving teachers joy in some small way.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Here4Teachers story. Tell us more about the business.
Here4Teachers is on a mission to reward and incentivize teachers! According to an article in The Washington Post entitled “Where Have All The Teachers Gone?” the Learning Policy Institute found “about 90% of the annual nationwide demand for teachers is created because teachers leave the profession.” Not that they are promoted or change districts, they actually leave the profession!

I want to change that by showing teachers they are valued and valuable. I figured the best way to do that is by giving teachers tangible thank yous. I don’t want to give teachers the usual gifts of something for their classroom or their school. I want to give teachers gifts for themselves from businesses within their communities–gifts like spa treatments, restaurants gift certificates or even movie tickets for them and their families–stuff that’s just for them! In addition, I want to showcase the great things teachers are doing via social media, so the community can be aware of those great things as well.

Because I am in my pilot year, I have adopted two schools per district. With the help of sponsors, I will reward five teachers a month at each school. I will also do school wide rewards like lunch on us, Christmas celebrations, and awesome Teacher Appreciation gifts during TA Week, and pay teachers as guest bloggers writing about the chosen theme for the year. I also have an annual teacher fair in the works where vendors can introduce themselves to teachers, while at the same time pampering and loving on teachers.

I have found hope is a powerful thing. If I can offer hope to teachers through the anticipation of being rewarded in some small way for all the hard work they do, and that hope carries over into their staying in the profession another year, two years, or ten years, I would consider my efforts a success.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I don’t personally believe in luck. Luck implies coincidence. I don’t think God operates in the realm of coincidence. Everything happens when it should–good and bad according to HIs plan. When the good, happens we rejoice. When the bad happens, we lament.

However, neither were coincidental, and both are learning experiences.

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