The past five weeks have been honestly exhausting. My dad—who lives in New York—was hospitalized in intensive care because of complications from a chemotherapy treatment. For much of that time, he was dancing with death and we weren’t sure that he’d ever recover.
After traveling home to help my family, I spent countless hours at his bedside hoping for his health. Our goal was to simply have the chance to spend more time with him—but because of his condition, we were doubtful that we’d get that opportunity.
Like anyone facing similar situations, I was heartbroken. My dad has always been a powerful figure in my life—the guy who taught me everything from simple things like how to change the oil in my car to more complex lessons like the importance of determination and never taking no for an answer. He truly is a great man, and a teacher in his own right.
(If you’re reading this, Dad, I’m not blowing any smoke at all!)
The drain of the time in the hospital was only compounded by the fact that school started for me—-I teach in a building that operates on a year-round calendar—three weeks ago. That meant I was missing the beginning of a year for the first time in my career. I was worried about the reaction of the parents of my new students and of my peers—who thankfully picked up my slack and took care of all of my lesson planning.
As time went on, though, I started to get compassionate emails and text messages from my former students—who had heard from my colleagues that my dad was in the hospital. Each wondered how my dad was doing and when I’d get back to North Carolina. “We miss you, Mr. Ferriter!” they’d write—helping me to think beyond my immediate troubles and giving me opportunities to smile while surrounded by sadness.
Thankfully, my dad stabilized last week, allowing me to travel back to North Carolina and begin planning for the first day of my new school year. I made it into school on Friday in time to stand at the exit and say goodbye to the students at dismissal. Dozens of kids were as jazzed to see me as I was to see them—and that felt good.
Once they left, I headed back upstairs to make seating charts and photocopies. Outside, the skies opened up for the first time in a month, soaking our corner of town in an unexpected downpour—and giving me an excuse to stay for a few more hours.
Around 5:30, my phone rang. It was Johnny—one of my favorite kids from last year. “Mr. Ferriter,” he said, “We’re standing at the front door and we want to see you. We walked here in the rain because you’re only the best teacher in the whole world…Come down to see us, would ya?”
Could I possibly have said no?!
When I got downstairs, I found 8 of my boys—soaked through to the bone—waiting to say hello. They’d gotten together after seeing me in the hallway and decided that they wanted to spend a few more minutes with me.
All of them poured out stories of their new teachers and memories of last year. They smiled and joked…told me about girlfriends…pushed one another over benches…gave each other wet willies…bragged about grades…told me what books they were reading…filled me in on who was in trouble and which teachers they thought were mean…
They complained about homework…asked about current events (a staple of my classroom instruction)…crowed about concerts they’d gone to recently…plotted practical jokes…decided to come and visit me each morning even if it meant getting caught and being assigned detention…teased me about my haircut…wondered what stories I’d tell my new students…
And just plain made my day!
After all, anyone who knows middle schoolers realizes that it is rare for any boy—let alone a crowd of 8—to walk BACK to school in a driving rainstorm on a FRIDAY afternoon to tell a teacher about the BOOKS he’s reading?!
Their impromptu visit was a reminder of why I teach.
Being important in the lives of kids is an incredibly humbling opportunity that I’m thankful for every day. While I’m not sure that I’m worthy of the position I hold in their minds, I know that there are few places that I’d rather be—or few professions that can offer such beautiful rewards for a job well done.