Actress and writer Busy Philipps’s Instagram page isn’t just a fun place to catch up on the latest in her life (and to see cute pics of her adorable family). For the next few weeks, it’s also a place to help teachers. Just as she did last year, the Olay spokeswoman is featuring two teachers each week… for five weeks. Her goal? To have her followers “clear” (or buy items off of) each teacher’s wish list of supplies for their classrooms. And on top of that, she partnered with Michaels Stores to give each of the featured teachers a $300 gift certificate to boot! We chatted with Busy to find out more about #10FeaturedTeachers.
Anyone who follows you on Instagram will have noticed that you’ve been featuring real-life teachers and their stories a lot lately. What inspired you to do that?
That was my great friend Ed Droste — he’s in the band Grizzly Bear. He was friends with a teacher, and has a large following on Instagram, so he decided to do this thing where he’d feature ten teachers on his page. He challenged me to join in. It just seemed like a very easy way to help people who want to to support a teacher directly to get involved, say if they aren’t sure which organization to donate to. I think sometimes it just gets very overwhelming with the enormity of all the things that are happening in the world, you can forget how small things make an impact.
That’s awesome! And such a clever, simple way to take direct action. What kind of impact have you seen?
So teachers create Amazon wish lists of school supplies, then you can just go online and clear a list on behalf of a teacher. So many teachers are working in Title 1 schools, trying to engage students with out of date text books and supplies. They don’t make nearly the amount of money they should be making, yet they’re paying for these things out of their own pocket every year because they love their students. The Michael Stores stepped up when I started posting because I’m a spokesperson for them — they give a discount to teachers anyway, but they wanted to throw in a gift card. I’m hoping to get a few other people who have large following to join in promoting teachers on their social media as well.
Have any teachers’ stories especially stuck with you?
To be honest, what’s really struck me is the dedication of so many teachers who’ve written in wanting to help their kids. But that said, a teacher called Andrew Arp wrote in with an incredible story. He and his wife were both pastors, but weren’t happy with the way the church was handling the LGBT community. So they decided to leave, and now he’s a science teacher at a Title 1 school. I could tell from his letter that he’s so excited to inspire these kids, to introduce them to robotics and science. We cleared everything on his list — I even bought five robots myself! I get so many letters from people who have been teachers for 20 years, and are still excited at the beginning of the school year. They deal with so much — a lot of kids living in poverty, homeless or living in motels. And while I’m not quitting my job and going to become a teacher, as a human being I want to support those who are doing the work.
We’re sure you always appreciated that teachers do a valuable job, but has becoming a parent to two daughters changed your perspective at all?
I knew I came from a place of privilege, but I think that awareness really solidified becoming a parent. It’s getting that real understanding of what it takes to provide for a kid and raise them, emotionally, monetarily, and physically — even in a position of privilege, it’s the hardest job I’ve had in my life. So when you add not being able to afford diapers, not being able to afford school supplies for your kid at the beginning of the year, and deciding between sending your kid to school with lunch money or paying rent — I just think that everyone in the community should help.
What do you think needs to happen to improve the situation for teachers in this country?
I show up and try to vote for representation that prioritizes things like schools over say, guns and war. There are so many problems with the way education is funded in this country, and I see the private sector is stepping in — the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for example. There are a lot of billionaires who could do a lot of good. You’d be shocked by what’s on these teachers’ lists — they’re not they’re not looking for $10,000, just a few hundred dollars. But that’s so much out of the pocket of a teacher who doesn’t get paid enough.
On a more personal note — you recently mentioned on your Instagram that your mother was incredibly supportive, but hadn’t been able to break all the rules she wanted to. What did you mean by that?
Being a woman in a particular time in history is really interesting. She was born at the end of World War II, and grew up in the ‘50s and ‘60s when the idea of what a woman should be, and what her place was, was so different. The internalized misogyny and patriarchal society imposed on her wasn’t her choice. I think there are things you can’t break out of if they’re literally ingrained from birth. But she was able to believe a different way of being was possible for women, and she wanted that for her kids, and she always made sure we knew that.
What are the rules of your own content that you would like to break?
I think there’s a lot of body stuff we’re still holding on to. As feminists we understand how that’s been perpetrated on us, but I think breaking free of those things still took me a long time, and there was a degree of “fake it ‘til you make it.” For my children I really try to model respect for my body and for other people’s bodies. If I don’t feel good, or I gained 10 pounds or whatever, I’m not verbalizing that in front of my girls. To young children, as a mother, you’re magical, you’re this unicorn person. So what does that say to them, if the most beautiful unicorn that they know can’t wear a bikini? I’ve had so many cool pool birthday parties in the last 11 years, and the amount of moms that don’t want to get into a bathing suit makes me want to rage. Your child doesn’t care what you look like, they just want you to participate.
This interview appears in Katie Couric’s Wake-Up Call newsletter. Subscribe here.