Several years ago, Lloyd Hopkins worked various jobs in Arizona's education system before going to ASU to study nonprofit leadership and management.
Now, Hopkins is the executive director and founder of the Million Dollar Teacher Project, launched in 2015, which he said is a social movement designed to shift public perception on the profession of teaching as well as the academic environment on the state level.
Hopkins said his goal is to make the nonprofit project nationwide in the next five years, and his ideal end goal is for teachers to be considered equal to celebrities and professional athletes in terms of pay and fame.
Hopkins, who said he has had 17 years of experience with education, also said teachers are the ones working with the most challenging student populations.
“Being a part of that work, supporting educators, really ignited my passion for really wanting to support teachers and do more for them,” he said.
Hopkins said he hopes the project will benefit Arizona’s education system, which is known for being one of the worst in the country.
According to Education Week, a study conducted in 2016 reported that Arizona's education system ranked 45th in the nation. The same study also said the state is ranked 48th for dedicating money to education.
“We’re developing some innovative strategies that are going to empower the community and the public to be involved,” Hopkins said. “We’re going to really demonstrate some things that the public can do that aren’t tied to state funding but still have great impact on educators.”
Hopkins said he wants to encourage the public to get involved with MDTP's social media campaign and create videos to thank their favorite teachers.
Hopkins said he is currently working on Take a Teacher to Lunch, which is a statewide campaign under MTDP he hopes to spread to every school district in Arizona by the end of 2018.
Hopkins said studying at ASU was crucial to his work at MDTP because he was surrounded by other nonprofit professionals and his assignments helped him with his education-based program idea.
“My major aligned with the change I wanted to create,” he said. “I was really able to use a lot of my course work and lean on a lot of my professors to really start carving out the roadmap to create this program."
However, Hopkins said some people don’t care about teacher compensation or teacher appreciation.
“I’ve really ran into apathy in regards to the mission itself,” he said. “I’ve ran into challenges with people who think teachers have it made.”
Hopkins said people think this because teachers have summers off and they’re done with work by mid-afternoon.
According to Expect More Arizona, low or frozen salaries are the most common reason for teachers leaving the profession.
“Teachers regularly work above and beyond their regular scheduled shifts,” he said. “A lot of them actually pick up second jobs in the summer and don’t just have this cake life and especially in Arizona.”
Jared Greenberg, a senior studying entrepreneurship and sustainability and MDTP’s chief strategy officer, said he helps execute the events for the nonprofit. He met Hopkins through Campus Student Sustainability Initiatives, an ASU student organization.
“Sustainability is something I’m really passionate about,” he said. “Taking care of teachers is essentially a sustainability issue. Most people think it’s environmental issues only.”
Greenberg said he used to want to be a teacher, but he realized this profession wouldn’t help him financially when he noticed teachers working alongside him at restaurants on the weekends.
“I learned early how much of a financial struggle it was to be a teacher, and I just think it’s one of the most important jobs, and it’s a shame that things haven’t changed,” he said.
Wiley Larsen, who Hopkins said he considers to be a mentor, is an ASU faculty member working in the entrepreneur and innovation office. He said he teaches classes about starting businesses for ASU’s Venture Devils program, which is where he met Hopkins.
“As a former teacher, I just took a real interest in his project because part of the reason I left teaching, there was a kind of ceiling as far as what your income potential was,” he said. “So I’m definitely interested in his business model.”
Larsen said he and Hopkins are both working on the idea of a creating a video library of lessons for substitute teachers to use in classrooms, which would ideally be monetized to provide additional income for the video creators.
“I really appreciate Lloyd’s tenacity,” he said. “He’s just an amazingly hard worker.”