One In A Million: January 2024: Maria Fernando Cesar


Name: Maria Fernando Cesar

School & District: Thew Elementary, Tempe Elementary School District

Grade(s) you teach: 2nd-5th Resource

How many students in your class(es) this academic year? Approximately 32

How long have you been a teacher? 6 years

What made you get into the teaching profession? I am very passionate about teaching students that need extra support. Back home in Nicaragua, there are no special education teachers and I wanted to make that change.

Who was your most inspirational teacher & why? Ms. Castellon. She was my high school Spanish teacher. She took the time to really get to know her students and made me feel special and validated.

What do you think are some of the biggest challenges teachers in Arizona face right now? Lack of support from students’ families. Also, teachers are very unmotivated based on compensation.

How do these issues affect your day-to-day? It affects me because whenever a student shows a challenging behavior, teachers and parents need to work together to resolve it. If parents don’t support the teacher, the behavior is less likely to stop.

What does the $250 tax deduction for school supplies for teachers mean to you? It gives more opportunities for me to get resources for my students and for my classroom. 

How are the expectations of becoming a teacher different from reality? Lately, the bar has been set very low and more unprepared people have the possibility to jump into the classroom.

Why do you think, teachers burn out so quickly? There are no work/home boundaries. We have so much to do but not enough time provided to complete them.

Do you typically feel appreciated or recognized as a teacher? For the most part I do. I have a very strong relationship with my students’ so small things that they do or say make me feel appreciated. 

What “fills your cup” when you’re running on empty? Spending time with my daughter, listening to music, and self-care.

What are some of the most thoughtful & effective ways parents & the community can show gratitude? By giving a simple thank you, or donating supplies for the classroom.

What is your wish for Arizona’s children? That they fall in love with learning and the value that comes from it. I wish that all AZ children are safe and loved.

What additional support or supplies do you need in your classroom & who do people contact if they want to help out? I could really use tissues and snacks for my classroom. My students are often asking for snacks. I don’t reach out to parents since most of the time they are already donating to the classroom. I usually get snacks for my students.

What types of items/prizes are meaningful to you to win/be gifted? Activities to “fill my cup”, snacks or my classroom.


What is/are your FAVORITE…

– Color? Green

– Food/restaurant? Postino, Cheesecake Factory, Ohso, Chick Fil A, Canes

– Music/group/artist?  Morgan Wallen, Luke Combs, Bad Bunny, Hardy, Bailey Zimmerman, Mainly Country.

– Sport/athletics team? Hockey (Go Coyotes!), Basketball, Football

– Pastime/hobby? Self-care, watch reality TV, listen to music, go shopping.


You will be able to see and support this teacher as a part of our Feel Like a Million Dollars competition this year.  The winner of the competition will be announced in our annual fundraiser, which takes place in July!


Share on social:

Related Posts

Apply Below

All items are required. 

Your Role:*

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+