Leesburg, VA (Jan. 25, 2016) – Sometimes it pays to vent your frustrations.
Sometimes it pays to write them down.
It especially pays if you share them with Ellen DeGeneres.
A month after being a recipient of a plethora of gifts as the grand prize winner of “12 Days of Giveaways,” Meghan Bentley is working to spread the largesse where it will do the most good. The Frederick Douglass Elementary fourth grade teacher is trying to bring the gifts she received back to her classroom wherever possible.
On December 16th, DeGeneres surprised Bentley and her husband, Bruce, by giving them every gift presented during “12 Days of Giveaways” during a surprise visit to their home by “Ellen” staffer Jeannie Klisiewicz. The gifts included gift cards, trips, luggage and a flat-screen TV.
Bentley said this big moment began in November when she wrote DeGeneres at letter. “I was having a bad day. I love her show. I love what she does. I wrote her just a little note. There has to be millions of people who write in to her; I don’t know why I was chosen.”
In her letter Bentley said she and her husband, a software developer, weren’t where they wanted to be; struggling to pay student loans while bills mounted. “My car was about to die.”
Bentley said she was expressing frustration; not pleading for help. “That’s why I was shocked that I was chosen… There’s definitely more deserving families out there.”
“Ellen” staffers called Bentley and said they might want to use her for a segment on teachers. They also asked for a list of teachers she was close to. “I was just excited to hear from them. I didn’t know what it was for… They called all my co-workers. I don’t know what was said, but apparently good things.”
Klisiewicz and eight Douglass staff members, including Principal Paula Huffman, came to Bentley’s house at 6 p.m. the night before the segment aired. (Bentley was told to be home to Skype with “Ellen” staffers about the question “Why do you love teaching?”)
Pandemonium ensued when Bentley opened the door and was showered with gifts and talked on the phone with DeGeneres in Burbank, Calif. “I never in my wildest dreams thought that I would talk to Ellen on the phone.” (As a bonus, DeGeneres gave each of Bentley’s colleagues a $1,000 gift card.)
Winning so much so fast brought out some mixed emotions, Bentley said.
“I was going through stages. At first, I was in shock. I was feeling so ecstatic and then I started feeling guilty because I felt like there were people out there… who need this stuff more than me. Then you’re overwhelmed ‘What am I going to do with all these things?’ ”
Some of the prizes, like trips, can’t be given away. Others will be donated to charity. The gift cards will be used on classroom supplies and her husband has programmed the Chromebook she received so it can used in the classroom. (She’s not, however, bringing the hoverboard to school.)
It was Bentley’s spending her own money on classroom supplies that prompted DeGeneres to pick Bentley for the grand prize. “I probably spent thousands of dollars my first year of teaching.”
Among the things Bentley bought this year was a class library when she made the move from fourth to second grade. “Everything had to be changed…That was expensive, but worth it. I wouldn’t think twice about it…
“As a teacher – I’m not the only one who does this – I feel like all Loudoun County teachers need to be recognized. We don’t even think twice about getting something for our classroom.”
Bentley is a 2009 graduate of Stone Bridge High School, where she played soccer and was known for her participation in drama productions (her name was Meghan Slupe then). She also participated in the teacher cadet program, which led her to pursue a degree in education from Radford University.
That, and the inspiration she received from her teachers…
“I remember adoring my teachers and thinking that they were someone I needed to look up to. I wanted to make a difference like they made a difference to me. It was them who probably drove me to teaching more than anything.”
Bentley, who’s in her third year of teaching at Douglass, said she wants to be the teacher who inspires her students to do better. “I love the kids at this school and sometimes they need a cheerleader that they might not have.” Bentley’s cheerleading extends to attending her students’ sporting events to show she has an interest in them outside of school. (She’s also an assistant coach for the Tuscarora High School girls’ varsity soccer team.)
Bentley said there’s a simple reason she’ll stick with teaching despite the frustrations she described to DeGeneres.