The average salary of a US public school teacher for 2016-17 was $59,660. While that number is up 2% from the 2015-16 year, the National Education Association has reported that “after adjusting for inflation, public school [teacher salaries] have decreased 2.1 percent over the [past] decade.” Jason and Megan Panek, founders of Pampered Teacher, are offering personalized gift packages for teachers to allow their friends and family to show their appreciation.
“I think now more than ever, teachers deserve our appreciation, thanks, and respect,” says Jason. “They’re under fire both literally and figuratively with increases in gun violence in classrooms, not making a whole lot of money, strikes going on across the country… I think if you’re not thanking a teacher, you should reconsider that decision. It’s a difficult job in many respects, and teachers aren’t always thanked for it. That’s where Pampered Teacher comes in.”
Jason originally came across Pampered Teacher, an existing teacher appreciation service, through a colleague in an entrepreneurship class. “When Jason first pitched buying Pampered Teacher to me, I thought he was crazy, because at the time we already had a business!” Megan recalls, laughing. Jason had founded and was operating a medical recruiting business at the time. “But it seemed like the perfect fit for us, so we kind of threw caution to the wind, got a business loan, and bought Pampered Teacher,” Megan says.
Megan is herself a teacher, having taught in a traditional public high school for seven years in Wisconsin before beginning her current tenure at CATEC, a technical education center in Charlottesville where she has been an English teacher and instructional coach for the past two years. “Looking back, I don’t know how I survived in my previous job,” Megan says. “I had 180 students -- special ed students, accelerated program students, ESL students -- they covered the entire spectrum of learning speeds and styles. To teach well in that kind of setting, it completely takes over your life… the work consumes you.”
“We actually have a teaching situation right now that is probably as bad as it's been for many, many decades,” states Linda Darling-Hammond, President and CEO of the Learning Policy Institute, an independent education research organization. Linda is a Professor of Education Emeritus at Stanford University, and she recently co-authored a 2016 study titled, “A Coming Crisis in Teaching? Teacher Supply, Demand, and Shortages in the U.S.” “8% of teachers leave every year,” Linda said in an interview with NPR. “That's a couple-hundred-thousand teachers, [and] less than a third of them are leaving for retirement. Teachers are earning about 20% less than other college graduates who are similarly educated… Teacher working conditions are worse than they've been,” she concludes.
The troubling statistics regarding teachers in the US continue to accumulate the further one digs into the data. Public school teachers are around five times more likely to have a part-time job than the average full-time US worker based on 2015-16 NCES statistics, as reported by Vox earlier this year. That overall percentage of teachers working part time jobs has since climbed to an 18 percent average across the country, according to statistics published by the NCES this past month in June of 2018. And cutting into that teacher salary, which was lower during the 2016-17 school year than in 1999-2000 after adjusting for inflation, 94% of public school teachers spent their own money on school supplies in 2015-16, as published by NCES in May of 2018.
To help alleviate the stresses and low wages that teachers across the country face on a daily basis, Jason and Megan are curating personalized care packages for them. “Each box is tailored to the season and contains items for both you and your classroom,” reads the header on the info page of the Pampered Teacher website. “It’s a great way for us to give back to teachers, teaching being a profession that has given us so much over the past 15 or so years,” Jason says.
Eventually, though, Jason and Megan have aspirations beyond just the teaching sector. “Our LLC is actually registered as Appreciation Station, because ultimately we would love to create a business where we are the service people use to show their appreciation for other professions that we feel are underappreciated,” Megan explains. Some other potential occupations Megan mentioned as possible new care package lines included firefighters, law enforcement, and nurses. “The hope is that we can reach out to other professionals and provide them with the support and gratitude that they deserve,” Jason adds.
Jason and Megan have both uncovered new passions since launching Pampered Teacher last fall. “I have always been a social services and human-centric person,” Jason mentions. “I’ve done social work, I’ve done nursing, I’ve done psychology… that’s my thing. I never wanted anything to do with business or numbers or math. The fact that I’m enjoying it as much as I am has been incredibly surprising.”
“I could play around with the marketing and designs for our business all day,” Megan says enthusiastically. “There's a whole marketing side to me that I didn't realize was there. I’ve taken over our social media, blog, and newsletter, and it has been so fun to get back to being a writer. I’ve taught writing for 16 years, but I haven't had time to actually write myself since becoming a teacher. It’s really satisfying.”
The team's time at the iLab has also helped alleviate the isolation that often comes with running a startup. "Going from working at my kitchen table with my dog to being here at the iLab has been great," Jason says, smiling. "Being around people that I know are in the same position as I am with the same questions and problems I have instead of going it alone… I can’t tell you how helpful that is. And even if these teams don’t always directly help me, just knowing that I’m not by myself has been a tremendous asset. It can get pretty lonely. I have a great dog, but he’s not that great, you know?”
The most rewarding part of Pampered Teacher for Megan and Jason, though, has been hearing the excitement and gratitude from teachers around the nation. “Teachers are always so excited to tell us how much they love getting our boxes out of the blue,” Megan says. “Reading all of these positive emails and reviews from teachers, I think that's the best part of running Pampered Teacher for us, and I think it will always continue to be the most rewarding thing.”
Jason completely agreed, going deeper into the story of one customer in particular. “We have one customer in particular who teaches on an army base,” he recounted. “Her husband is deployed, and he bought our box for her from Iraq. Since then, we’ve talked with her several times; she’s incredibly nice and super appreciative of what we do. Having a really close customer who told us that we touched her heart in that way… that’s why we started Pampered Teacher, and interactions like that are the reason why we couldn’t be happier with what we’re doing.”
To read more about Jason and Megan’s journey and their gift box service, visit them at https://pamperedteacher.com/. Their blog can be found at https://pamperedteacher.com/blogs/news, and the team can be contacted at email@example.com. You can follow Pampered Teacher on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
You can also view Pampered Teacher boxes from previous months here.
About The Team
Jason Panek is the proud father of two girls, a small business owner, a Star Wars nerd, an avid golfer, and a lover of craft beer.
Megan Panek is a mom, Language Arts teacher, book lover, and amateur baker who always has a cup of coffee nearby.
The Paneks live and work in Charlottesville, Virginia, where they are raising their two daughters, six-year-old Evelyn and ten-year-old Alice.
About the Author
Christopher Nelson is a rising second year at New York University in Shanghai, China. He has experience in business operations as well as legal research and contract work. Christopher is currently interning at the UVA Darden School of Business Innovation Lab this summer as an interviewer and journalist.