A few years back, I started a new category of posts here on the Radical called TWIT — or THIS Is Why I Teach — designed to serve as a celebration of the simple joys that come along with being a classroom teacher and a reminder to me that I really DO enjoy what I do.
I realized the other day that it’s been a LONG while since I wrote a TWIT post — and then the email below ended up in my inbox:
Dear Mr. Ferriter,
In my last semester at UNC Chapel Hill where I double majored in Psychology and Political Science, I took a class in cognitive development.
Our professor asked the class if anyone had a vivid memory of something taught in grade school and I raised my hand.
I told a story about my 6th grade language arts teacher who came into class and told one side of the room that they were his favorite students and the other side that they were bad and lazy.
I told them how the good side was given soda and candy and how the bad side was assigned pages out of a workbook.
You did this demonstration to teach us about discrimination and injustice and how despite the arbitrariness of the division, no one spoke out against it.
My professor and the class were impressed less with my recollection than with the brilliance of your pedagogical device.
Earlier this past semester in law school at Georgetown, I was working on a ten day take-home exam memorandum.
I thought about how easy it would be for students to collaborate on the assignment, breaking the honor code.
I thought about how the code was less fair to people like me who would choose to follow it by forcing us to compete with those who would ignore it and benefit from collaboration.
Then I remembered how Mr. Ferriter emphatically taught my 6th grade class that it was better to earn an “F” than to cheat one’s way to an “A”.
On many occasions like these, I have been reminded of your teachings.
I often wondered how it was that under the guise of language arts you taught us so much about ethics and morality.
I sit here writing this e-mail ten or so years since being in your class not just because you were a teacher but because you went above and beyond what was required of you, and as a result, you made a really important difference.
I believe that aside from parents, teachers wield the most power in deciding what our society will be like. Thank you for taking advantage of that authority and being such a positive influence.
I know I am a better person for having been in your class.
How’s THAT for a pick-me-up after a long week of teaching, huh?!
More importantly, how’s THAT for a reminder that everything we do matters more than we can possibly imagine.
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