Confessions of a special education teacher grant-writer

Carmen Watts Clayton

Carmen Watts Clayton

by Carmen Watts Clayton

I said to myself, “They’re not paying me enough to be a teacher and a grant writer!” Then I began to think, who really gains from me applying my ability to write pervasively? The answer is: the kids do! And therefore I do too. As I write, my class won another $1100 of materials and equipment I requested just four weeks ago!

Would you like a tablet, software, art supplies, books, construction kits, musical instruments, and other resources for your classroom? Does your school lack a budget for supplies that pushes you to use your own monies for many class items? I found myself spending over $500 a year to get essential supplies for my room, until I learned how to leverage my basic generosity to provide more for my students. Now I give about one hour a week to support my classroom with many grant dollars.

I know when kids are challenged, engaged, and happy to come to school then everybody wins, and testing gradually proves this as well, sometimes radically so. This is what motivated me and got me busy applying grant writing skills I honed in a former job, into expanding the scope of my curriculum. I refined fundraising strategies for my classroom; raising $2500 the first year; over $15,000 the second year (including a classroom set of iPads); and this year an additional $3,000 in technology, supplies, and materials so far. My kids simply can’t wait for the economy or the school budget to get better, or Common Core Standards to be fully implemented. My kids need to prepare for their future in the present, and because I care about their future, I am willing to try to get them the tools and technology they need now. I found it pretty easy to win grant money for my classroom and think you will too if you keep in mind rules of the road and a few simple tips as you go:

  1. Start small. Begin by designing project proposals that are small and reasonable, preferably under $500 in scope. Easier to win, you can probably do many in the course of a school year with minimum time commitment.
  2. Make sure you are eligible. Many grants and donors have specific things they fund and deadlines for applying. Take them seriously and don’t waste time applying for funding you don’t qualify for or can’t get together on time.
  3. Use social media fundraising services online to help you win donations and write successful grants! Be sure they are reputable and be aware of the fees they charge. Nonprofit services charge the least. They also help walk you through the process of setting up the request, shopping for items, and finding donors to supply your list of materials, books, supplies, and even field trips.
  4. Remember donations to your class are tax deductible and usually remain the property of the school. Anyone can donate, but nobody knows the needs of your students like you. Nobody can tell the students’ story, what strengths, dreams, and struggles exist in your classroom and community like a passionate teacher. Through a teacher’s storytelling, passionate commitment, student-centered approach, and careful organization, and a little persuasive writing skill, students CAN have all the technology and other materials they need.

I assure you there are both small and large grants for teachers. Most are fairly easy to request. Guidelines to remember when starting:

  • Grant opportunities can easily be found online. and are just a couple places to get started. A search will find blogs and newsletters to sign up for to help keep abreast of what is available.
  • Besides grant proposals, write letters to local and regional businesses that employ 20 or more people. Local companies often have giving programs and frequently target children’s needs. Locally is a great place to ask for assistance because many local businesses and foundations give back to the communities they do business in.
  • One good way to start writing your own grants is to locate and use donation sites designed to help teachers meet project goals, such as or
  • There are online crowd funding sites designed to help you raise money for any project, some popular ones are Move Your Mountain, Go Get Funding, Go Fund Me, Razoo, MoolaHoop, Give Forward, Crowdrise, and Start Some Good. Be aware of websites that spin their services as “free.” All crowd funding websites charge fees; site, processing and per donation fees are the most common. Do some comparisons and careful reading before signing on.
  • I find the most helpful sites are non-profits and find the fees more reasonable. My favorite is Donors Choose. This site is easy to navigate and they do an excellent best job of walking the teacher through the process in a helpful well-designed step-by-step manner. Prompts help teachers define their needs, shop for the items online, tell their classroom story, and thank the donors appropriately once the project is funded.

Don’t forget to let family, friends, colleagues, and community groups know of your efforts to raise funds for your class! Sending emails and newsletters, word of mouth advertising, even posters on bulletins helps fund the cause of better education. The site helps you find donors and partnering corporations whose matching dollars leverage other donations. Before long your goal is met, the supplies ordered, and items delivered directly to your school. The technology and materials you win belong to your class for long after the initial project is complete.

I love having new materials arrive all year long. Teachers shouldn’t have to wait for technology and materials we know will increase students’ engagement. I often feel like a hero for producing the many boxes of goodies that arrive, and I feel somehow far more appreciated in my job, even though I’d done most of the work to raise the project funds! Parents are impressed, and seem to be more likely to contribute in future class projects and field trips. Grant writing for the classroom sounds like extra work, but I am satisfied the extra hours I’ve put in really have a profoundly positive impact, and who doesn’t want to feel a little more inspired, a little more appreciated, in their daily routine.


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