Amanda Garner burst into tears Thursday while working her second job, thanks to a stranger who recognized the financial struggles she faces as a teacher in Colorado.
That same day, Garner had rallied at the state Capitol for better pay and school resources. The effort continued Friday as part of a wave of teacher actions across several states in support of more money for public education.
After Thursday’s rally in Denver, as Garner manned the checkout lane at a grocery store, a man came through “proudly wearing his #RedForEd sticker,” she told CNN. The hashtag and the color have become symbols of support among educators and the community for teachers’ demands.
Garner, who teaches third grade, smiled and showed him the sticker she’d hidden on the underside of her apron.
“You have to work here, too?” the man asked, referring to the grocery. Garner said yes, then chatted with the man, who said his wife had been a teacher for 40 years.
They shook hands, and he thanked her for her commitment to the classroom.
Then, about an hour later, the man returned to buy some cookies. While checking out, he handed Garner an envelope and said, “For the teacher.”
“I didn’t get a chance to look at it for a bit, so I just smiled and put it in my apron,” Garner recalled.
When she finally opened the envelope during a break, she found two $50 bills.
“I just cried,” Garner said.
‘Really hard to make ends meet’
Garner, who has been teaching for six years, works at the store in the Denver suburb of Lakewood on Thursdays and Saturdays during the school year and picks up “as many hours as they’ll let me have” during breaks and over the summer, she told CNN. She also tutors twice a week.
Garner says her basic expenses – rent, car payment and student loans – eat up 74% of her take-home pay, not counting food, bills and the money she spends to outfit her classroom. Colorado’s average teacher salary ranks 31st in the country, according to the National Education Association.
“It’s really hard to make ends meet on 15% of my take-home,” she said.
Garner knew she’d never get rich as a teacher. Still, she said, “being a teacher shouldn’t be synonymous with poverty, and that’s one of the big reasons teachers are speaking out right now.”
There was no note in the envelope with the $100, so Garner didn’t know how to thank “the kind gentleman with a British accent.” But she wants him to know it’s appreciated.
“You have no idea how much of a difference that made,” she wrote on Facebook.