This Is Why I Teach. . .

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.



11 thoughts on “This Is Why I Teach. . .

  1. Royanne Baer

    I hope your father is continuing to improve and do well. Your blog is one of my “have-to-reads” for some honest food for thought. I spoke with you by phone and email last fall from SC where I was teaching social studies. I have moved south to GA where I teach ELA to middle schoolers. We have begun blogging as a class though just dabbling in it compared to what you do. Here, though, I am opening a whole new world to my students. My kids are jazzed which really gets me going. Change is hard, at any point in life, but we face it head-on, and are ususally rewarded for it. Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. Mel

    I’m so glad to hear that your father is doing better, Bill. I’m also happy to know that you were able to be there with him. What a homecoming! Thanks for your inspiring words and just being you. Your students are extremely lucky to have you in their lives.

  3. Art

    Glad your father is doing better. And glad you were able to take the time out in this busy time for you to share this experience with your students. It was a wonderful beginning of the year post to remind me at the start that the relationship I develop with my students is as important as anything I can explicitly teach them. Indeed, without the type of relationships that you obviously foster in your classroom, teaching the students becomes much more difficult if not almost impossible.

  4. Bill Ferriter

    No joke—thanks a ton for YOUR kind words as well. They are almost as meaningful to me as the visit from my boys on Friday.
    When I started blogging two years ago, I wasn’t sure that anyone would listen. Now, I’ve found a level of digital kinship with all of you.
    While in most cases we’ve never met, knowing that you’re out there is rewarding to me as a writer and as a person.
    Rock right on,

  5. Steve

    Inspiring people leave a long tail of inspired people in their wake, sounds like your dads long tail keeps getting longer. I loved hearing about the boys showing up in the rain, confirmed all my worst suspicions of your affect on students;)

  6. Parry

    Good to have you back, Bill. Just as your father had a tremendous impact on you, you have a tremendous impact on your students. And what in the world could possibly be more important than that?

  7. Nate Barton

    I know exactly what you mean when you talk about fathoming life without your father. Personally I cannot. I am so pleased to hear that he is back in good health.
    Last week I went to a positive behavior workshop and found myself slightly frustrated when one of our presenters suggested that we all work for rewards, and that our rewards, as teachers, are our paycheck, and bonus. “Would you come to work if you didn’t get paid?” a direct quote.
    I think your post answers the question. I found myself a bit choked up when I read of your students care for you.
    Our reward, if I may be so bold, has never been a paycheck or a bonus. Our reward has always been the excitement that comes from seeing the light bulbs turn on. From knowing that we have had a hand in developing a thirst for knowledge. From the notion that we may have lit a fire that has turned into a love for any number of things. Our reward comes from being a teacher, one of the hardest jobs on the planet.
    I became a teacher because of a deep and profound caring for young people. I am rewarded by the further pursuits of those young people, and occasionally by their sharing with me what my own pursuits have meant to them.
    I am terribly pleased that your students have provided you with that very reward.
    Welcome back.

  8. K. Borden

    During the school year, for 180 days seven hours a day, teachers are touching the lives of their students. Sometimes we all forget how much.
    Last year my daughter transfered to a new school for fourth grade. We walked in to meet the teacher and found that her homeroom teacher was a soft spoken older gentleman. Something clicked for her immediately with him.
    Sadly, he was very ill and died that Spring.
    Just yesterday (out of the blue) she came to me with a picture she had drawn and wanted to give another teacher when school starts back that she had dedicated to him.
    It reminded me yet again as a parent that the impact teachers have endures and can be greatly impressive on a child.
    I am glad to hear your students demonstrated their appreciation of your efforts. Well done to you and to them!

  9. George

    Glad to hear your father’s condition improved. It’s these simple interactions that sometimes remind us of why we teach. These connections we get to make with students on a personal level. I can picture those kids standing out there in the rain, determined to see you on a Friday afternoon. Completely unaware of how meaningful their actions are, and how much it means to you. Thanks for sharing.

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