Category Archives: TWIT

Thank a Teacher Day: The Sixth Grade Hallway.

As I sat around the lunch table laughing with the other teachers who work on the sixth grade hallway this afternoon, I realized that I’m a pretty darn lucky guy.  Not only do I work with really good people who are genuinely committed to doing right by kids, I work with people who are really good at what they do.

Some have been pushing my thinking for years.  The trust that comes from sharing a thousand professional experiences leaves us ready and willing to dream with — and to challenge — one another.  Our finest moments have always been the times that we accomplished something meaningful by polishing ideas together.

Others are new to our team, having joined our staff from other schools or straight outta’ college.  It’s hard to see them as truly “new,” though, because they are accomplished classroom teachers whose practices and personalities have meant so much to who we are as a group.  Their strengths have made us collectively stronger.

(Download slide and view original image credit on Flickr here)

I wanted to thank each of them today — to express my genuine appreciation for all that they have done to help me grow as a professional:

Mike Hutchinson — Thanks for being such a profound influence on my practice.  Bouncing ideas off of you constantly improves who I am and what I do.  More importantly, watching you give so freely of yourself to the students on our team leaves me simultaneously inspired and challenged.  #youAREappreciated

Adam Love — Thanks for intellectually wrestling with me.  The conversations that we have had about all things RTI have driven my thinking this year.  Given that I’m convinced that tension is the source of all original learning, your willingness to push has made me better.  #youAREappreciated

Chambliss Barrow: Thanks for your persistent smile and your kind heart.  You are a constant reminder of all that IS good — and you are constantly reminding me that things really ARE good.  The sunshine you bring to our team is one of the things that I am the most grateful for on a daily basis.  #youAREappreciated

Emily Swanson and Monica Kennedy — Thanks for proving time and again that laughter is the best way to build relationships.  You both bring much needed vibrancy to the work that we do together.  Just thinking about the two of you right now is making me smile — and given that I’m a professional pessimist, that’s saying something!  #youAREappreciated.

Tina Gallucci, Karla Mullen and Sarah Coulter — Thanks for questioning the status quo.  It takes courage to speak out — and no matter how uncomfortable the challenges that you’ve brought to our shared tables have made me feel over the time we’ve worked together, our shared ideas have always ended up stronger because of your voices.  #youAREappreciated

Marcy Hannula — Thanks for reminding me time and again that I have an obligation to use my voice to drive change beyond my classroom.  Your confidence in what I have to say — and your insistence that I say it — means more to me than you probably realize.  #youAREappreciated

Jason Dapkevich and Zach Honeycutt — Thanks for being the next generation of amazing teachers.  When I think about all that you can do and all that you are so early in your careers, I stand in awe.  You are so much more than teachers.  You are difference-makers.  #youAREappreciated

Michael Manholt — Thanks for being the mad scientist that always makes me wonder.  Our conversations are almost always full of more questions than answers — about instruction, about what we are doing as a collaborative team, about the content we’re responsible for teaching to our students.  The thoughts you share roll through my mind long after you’ve left the room, and that a good thing!  #youAREappreciated

Kate Kotik — Thanks for showing me what quiet determination and perseverance looks like in action.  Your commitment to doing whatever it takes to succeed while working with some of the toughest kids on our hallway is an inspiration.  I only wish we had more time to work together!  #youAREappreciated

I’m grateful, y’all — even if I don’t say it nearly enough.  Thank you for being my colleagues.  More importantly, thank you for being my friends.

#ThankaTeacherDay

#ShouldbeEVERYDay

This is Why I Teach: Inspiring Jake

Did you get a chance to read my Teaching is a Grind post?  In it, I shared the ugly truth that a career in education ain’t all sunshine and candycorn.

The bit clearly resonated with readers, racking up more comments — both here and on the Center for Teaching Quality site — than any post I’ve written in a long, long time.  Most commenters were grateful that I was willing to express feelings that most educators rarely share in public forums.

No commenter has left me thinking more than Sylvia Umstead, who wrote:

You seem so unhappy.  Why didn’t you leave years ago?  What’s keeping you in this profession?

My initial reaction to Sylvia’s post was heartbreaking.  “Who knows?!” I thought.  Working in a state that is systematically gutting public education one bad policy at a time REALLY DOES make it difficult to be happy on a day-to-day basis — and as a guy who has worked to build a consulting career beyond the classroom, leaving honestly would be easier than staying.

The answer to Sylvia’s question, though, rolled through my classroom door at 7:45 AM the next morning in the form of a boy that I’ll call Jake.  

Jake comes from a tough neighborhood where simply making ends meet often takes priority over success in school for most parents and students.  At the beginning of the school year, he brought a fat attitude and a thousand behavior problems to every class period.  He was defiant.  He was disrespectful to everyone.  He slept through classes, mouthed off to substitute teachers, and argued with anyone willing to listen.

#sheeshchat

What he didn’t realize, though, is that he’d been assigned to a team with three caring male teachers who weren’t going to let him off the hook that easily.  Together, we tag-teamed Jake — calling him out when he was inappropriate, coaching him up in the hallway when he needed some redirection, and celebrating every small success that he had while in our rooms.

We bought him supplies when he needed them.  We showed up at the community center near his home for awards ceremonies where he was being recognized.  We turned him into a mentor for another boy living in his neighborhood who needed some help.  We joked with him and made him laugh and gave him hugs when he needed them.

I think we caught him by surprise — and when we finally convinced him that we genuinely cared about him, he became a different kid. 

He pays attention and participates in every class now.  His homework is always finished.  He comes to school smiling — including for all SIX of the Saturday makeup days that we had this year due to school cancellations.  He reaches out to us every morning — coming to find us just to touch base.  Sometimes he asks us for help with homework.  Sometimes he wants to make playful bets with us on upcoming sporting events.  Sometimes he just sits next to us, saying nothing but listening to everything.  It’s almost like he wants to be SURE that we are still there for him and happy to see him.

Jake is why I remain in the classroom. 

He’s a physical reminder that despite the crap coming out of our state’s legislature, teaching remains one of the few professions where you can make a real difference in someone else’s life.  Had we written him off as a kid who was beyond help — something society is all-too-ready to do for kids like Jake AND something that would have been REALLY easy if you’d seen him in the first few weeks of the school year — who knows what he would have become.

Instead, by investing in him — by constantly reminding him that we care about who he is and have high hopes for who he can be — we’ve made school a safe place and success as a learner something that Jake can embrace and believe in.  That investment will pay off for him.  It might even change his life’s trajectory and give him a better chance at breaking out of the cycle of poverty that brings so many of today’s students down.

Jake is a huge win.  He’s the reason that I keep on grinding.

Jake is why I teach.

#TeachingIs

*Name changed to protect Jake’s identity.  

____________________

Related Radical Reads:

This is Why I Teach:  They Don’t Judge Me By a Test

This is Why I Teach:  They Are Learning From Me

This is Why I Teach:  They Still Dream

 

TWIT: We Really DO Influence Our Students

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.

Sincerely,

Bindhu

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.

#simpletruth

________________________

Related Radical Reads:

TWIT: They Don’t Judge Me by a Test

TWIT: They Write Once in a While

TWIT: They’re Learning from Me

 

TWIT: Parents Really DO Notice

You know, I've been bringing a lot of pessimism to the party lately. 

Don't get me wrong:  that's definitely my niche.  Without guys like me, people would think that educators were one big heaping pile of sunshine and candycorn, right?

But I've been SO pessimistic that I've even got myself down!

That's why the following email—-which landed in my inbox the other day—meant so much to me:

Bill,

I just visited The Fighting Gnomes website to see if I could glean any useful information about what Andrew's doing in school.  

While on the site, curiosity led me to your "livescribe" tutorial on convection.  I was extremely impressed with the technology and even more thrilled by your delivery of the subject matter!  

You have an amazing gift!  

I hope you'll always be energized by teaching and feel a sense of accomplishment and pleasure by knowing how many young minds you've been able to open to the great and intriguing world in which we live.  

We are surrounded by natural miracles that are all too often taken for granted or not pondered at all because too many people failed to learn how to enjoy scientific inquiry.  THANKS for all you do at Salem Middle School!  You're the best in class!   

Rgds, David

 

Not bad, huh?  Maybe I AM getting something right every now and then.  And maybe—-just maybe—-parents value me for something more than test scores.

I may forget it far too often, but this is why I teach.

 

Bill,
I just visited The Fighting Gnomes website to see if I could glean any useful information about what Andrew's doing in school.  While on the site, curiosity led me to your "livescribe" tutorial on convection.  I was extremely impressed with the technology and even more thrilled by your delivery of the subject matter!  You have an amazing gift!  I hope you'll always be energized by teaching and feel a sense of accomplishment and pleasure by knowing how many young minds you've been able to open to the great and intriguing world in which we live.  We are surrounded by natural miracles that are all too often taken for granted or not pondered at all because too many people failed to learn how to enjoy scientific inquiry.  THANKS for all you do at Salem Middle School!  You're the best in class!   Rgds, David Brush 

TWIT: They Don’t Judge Me by a Test

If you've been reading the Radical recently, you know it's been a frustrating week for me.  I'm tired of working in tested subjects and tired of fighting back against under-informed policies.

Things are gloomy inside my professional head, that's for sure.  Which is why the letter that one of my seventh grade soccer players brought by my room yesterday afternoon meant so much. 

Check it out:

Dear Mr. Ferriter,

I just wanted to say that I appreciate your time and effort in putting this season together.  You are a great coach that knows how to teach beautiful soccer and have fun at the same time. 

I know and understand that you appreciate us as much as we admire you, and thank you for that.  Words cannot describe how thankful and blessed we are for you, Coach.  We all hope you are able to come back next year, but if not, we totally understand and are grateful for the time that you have given us.

This season was definitely one that I will never forget, and you are a huge part of that.  I just want to thank you for everything that you have done for us and taught us about the wonderful game of soccer.

–Baker Boy

Next time someone asks about my "value added scores" or my "effectiveness index," I'm going to send them to see this kid!  Maybe then, they'll recognize that the contributions of teachers go far beyond anything a standardized test can measure.  

This is why I teach.