One in a Million: Tori Danielle Thompson


Name: Tori Danielle Thompson          

School: R. E. Simpson School

Grade: 5th-8thMusic/Band

We received over 900 votes in our first ever Feel Like a Million Dollars event that we hosted on May 22nd for Maryvale High School.   Both the faculty and the students voted on who they felt deserved to feel like a million dollars and you won! 

How does that feel?
It feels, at once, exciting, humbling and encouraging to know that I am appreciated for what I do. Thank you so much!

What was the first prize you used out of the prize package you received?
The Expo markers. Students in every grade level start their class doing rhythmic exercises on the large whiteboard and personal whiteboards, which they get to modify and make their own to play as a class. Hundreds of students a day=hundreds of Expo markers a year.

How long have you been a teacher? Just entered year 8.

What made you get into the teaching profession?
My love of music, voracious appetite for books, and desire to make a difference in inner-city communities by providing youth with creative outlets for their energy. Several of my relatives were musicians, and my mother’s library and CD collection were very extensive. The older children in my neighborhood who I looked up to were marching band members in schools who styled themselves after Big 10 and HBCU showbands. Others were heavy into hip-hop, and spent afternoons writing rap lyrics and producing beats in their makeshift studios. I was intrigued, and began writing and arranging myself. I marched and did concert band for all through high school and college, earning a Bachelor of Music Education from Jackson State University in Jackson, MS.

I fell into teaching folk song on accident. My first public school position was as a general music teacher. I attended a workshop for Kodaly methodology, which approaches GM through the singing of world folk music first, and fell in love all over again. I went on to earn Level II Certification as a Kodaly Specialist, and continue to teach my GM classes with this methodology as the foundation.  Since my student population is so diverse, I strive to find out their home countries and teach authentic folk music from each of them. It ends up being a blend of Music and Social Studies.

Who was your most inspirational teacher and why?
My elementary school music teacher, Ms. Linares! I was a latchkey kid, and Ms. Linares always let me stay in her music room for 15-20minutes after school as I waited for my mother to come pick me up. She showed me piano basics, went further in depth with the world music lessons than she could during class, and showed me how to handle instruments responsibly. Playing a duet with her on the last day of 6th grade in her classroom was a “eureka” moment: she gets payed to have so much fun?

What do you think are some of the biggest challenges teachers in Arizona face right now?
FUNDING!!! Public school teachers are expected to manifest material miracles in classrooms with minimal budget. We ALL spend hundreds, sometimes thousands, of our own dollars annually to ensure that our students have what they need as far as books, supplies, and materials.

This funding issue particularly affects Title I schools at the base level because some of our classrooms are overcrowded, buildings and busses in dangerously ill repair, and sometimes have outdated curriculum.

How do these issues affect your day to day?
Some schools cannot afford to hire extra teachers to handle the excess, which can lead to behavior management issues. We are under a time crunch to spread our attention and one-on-one instruction evenly to all of our students, and the ones who need us the most  sometimes go underserved. Music units that should take 1 month sometimes take 6 weeks, because we have so many students to assess while “wrangling” the others!

In the past, I worked in a classroom that had untreated visible mold in the ceiling. An a/c system remained broken for nearly an entire semester waiting for repair budget to come through. Band practice was held in a classroom where temperatures soared past 100 degrees regularly.

Budget constraints mean I do not have enough concert instruments for all of my enrolled students. I have to find creative ways to engage all of my budding musicians while they wait their turn. Repairs are done in order of the most severe. Some students have instrument cases held together by duct tape. Teachers at other schools in the district with repair experience graciously volunteer their own time to fix the minor repairs.

My general music classes are VERY large, with one ELL class hovering around 35 students, all of whom speak at least 2 languages. Some of these students have experienced trauma. They would be better served by smaller class sizes and more counselors.

I have a running joke that I am a part-time grant writer, as I’ve applied for and secured thousands of dollars of materials and instruments for schools over the course of my career, and I am not alone. Programs such as, EarCandy, Mr. Holland’s Opus, fraternal organizations like Sigma Alpha Iota Music Fraternity, and your fine organization have been filling in the gaps, and I thank you for your generosity!

What does the $250 tax deduction for school supplies for teachers mean to you?
 It’s disrespectful! Let’s talk numbers:
$250 is the annual cost just to tune our school’s pianos.  Clarinet needs a re-pad? $150. Cracked xylophone bar? $40.  36 Expo markers in assorted colors to make word identification easier for ELL and SPED students? $36 a month.  Pair of maracas? $20. Tenor sax reed crack? $4 and a beginner probably will crack 10 more by semester’s end.  What other profession requires employees to spend so much money? Do nurses buy gauze and alcohol pads? Do warehouse workers buy their own forklifts?
The state of Arizona lost a court case a decade ago obligating them legally to a multibillion dollar payout to public schools. They are refusing to pay up, while simultaneously giving corporations millions of dollars in tax cuts. A business can write off millions in tax write offs, but I can’t claim a box of reeds? Disrespectful.

How are the expectations of becoming a teacher different than the reality?
We all enter the profession as a proverbial David armed with the slingshot of our optimism. We expect to “make a difference” and the students will respect us just because we are adults. Today’s teachers have to EARN every ounce of respect they are given from their 12-year-old clients.

Why do you think teachers burn out so quickly?
Not learning to “leave work at work” mentally and emotionally. Giving hundreds of people your energy daily is draining. There is never-ending planning, symphonic analyses, workshops, pedagogical research to do. I now know to set a work goal, stay at work long enough to reach it, then go home empty-handed. The disconnect is necessary to maintain my sanity.

It is even easier for core curriculum teachers to burn out. The standards and data analysis requirements have become so extensive, rigorous and stringent in recent years that they are constantly being evaluated and judged on their efficacy and professionalism. The job can take so much from a person, and isn’t over just because contract time is over.

What “fills your cup” when you’re running on empty?
 As Ms. Thompson, taking a weekend music teacher workshop. Teaching can easily happen in a vacuum. Attending a workshop with professional peers who have brand new songs, games, and pedagogy refreshes me, reminds me that I am one of many, of the joy that moved me to teach in the first place, and excites me to implement the new ideas into my curriculum.
As Tori, connecting with nature. When my spiritual gas light blinks orange, I make time to walk a trail, hike a mountain, meditate near water, go vegan for a weekend, camp in the woods, or attend a music festival in a park with friends. I am also a firm believer in “mental health days.” It’s called PERSONAL TIME OFF for a reason!

What are some of the most thoughtful and effective ways parents and the community can show gratitude?
SHOW UP. I don’t think parents understand how encouraging it is to teachers when parents and community members show up for school events. Attend parent-teacher conferences, return our phone calls, take an active interest in grades, volunteer to chaperone for field trips, pass out programs, bringing family friends to school concerts and festivals.

What is your wish for Arizona’s children?
I wish for them to have knowledge, wisdom, and understanding of how the REAL WORLD works outside of our classrooms. What is required to attain intergenerational mobility to lessen the NEED for so many Title I schools in the future. To understand the importance of investment, passive income, entrepreneurship and home ownership in building wealth. To have access to technology, training, and science education. To understand that they have a responsibility towards social justice. And, of course, I wish for all of Arizona’s children to develop an appreciation for the arts. Because Musical Arts, Visual Arts and Physical Arts express our humanity.

What additional support  or supplies do you need in your classroom and who do people contact if they want to help out?
Band instruments and supplies. I have far more students than I have instruments. If you have an old trumpet collecting dust in your attic, send it this way, please! Clarinet and saxophone reeds are also needed.

Ways to help:

This is my classroom’s crowd-funding page. Share this link with friends and family!

  • Drop off any [tax-deductible!] instrument or supply donation at my school.
  1. E. Simpson School, 5330 N 23rd Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85015

602.246.0699 front office, contact Susan Chavarria, Office Manager.

  • Tax-credit donations. You can donate up to $200 to a school, earmark it for a specific activity (such as band), and receive a dollar-for-dollar reduction in total tax owed!
  • Volunteer your time!
  • Contact me directly!
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Growing the Tree

Million Dollar Teacher Tree was first developed in a classroom by students in a program called, Next Generation Service Corps at Arizona State University in December of 2017. These students were tasked by Lloyd Hopkins, founder of Million Dollar Teacher project with developing a project that can potentially become an integral part in helping MDTP achieve its mission. The group eventually developed the original prototype for Million Dollar Teacher Tree—a cutout dollar sign that would be placed in surrounding businesses near the partner school. The idea was pitched to staff members of MDTP during the last of their class, and the project was picked up by MDTP as a new pilot program for the organization. After many months of planning, the prototype was eventually revamped into what it is today, Million Dollar Teacher Tree.

Golden Apple

These apples are intended to provide any sort of Professional Development which, in turn, gifts them with key knowledge to add to their personal skill-set to better work with their students.

As educators, teachers are constantly looking to continually grow in their profession to not only learn how to better connect with their students, but to also make the learning experience much more exciting.

Suggested donation amount range: $10 – $100

Red Apple

These apples are designed to provide the typical day-to-day items in the classroom. Teachers spend can spend upwards of $1,000 out of pocket to have enough supplies yearlong for their students– to alleviate this, the Red Apples were created.

Everyday school supplies include; pencils, notebooks, crayons, hand sanitizer, etc.

Green Apple

These apples are intended to provide a big-ticket item for the teachers. These supplies are typically something that the teachers can use for more than one school year.

Examples include; a class-set of computers or new furniture for the classroom.

Suggested donation amount: $500+