Meet Rita Pierson – the school teacher with grit. During my 365 Days of Ted, some talks have had more of an impact than others. Every talk I choose to write about has moved me or challenged me in some way, Rita Pierson’s talk is no exception, which is why I have included her in my Amazing Human’s series Rita’s message is a simple, but crucial one “Every kid needs a champion.”
Rita, Mrs Pierson, is a straight-talker with all heart. She is the type of teacher I wish I had in high-school. The majority of my teachers did their job – they taught the curriculum and I was semi-willing student so I got decent grades, but I don’t know if I was really ever inspired by them. It’s not that they were bad teachers. I think that it just became a job to them, not a career. Quite a few teachers ended up resigning and moving on to completely unrelated fields. The exception is two teachers I had who did seem to have a genuine passion for their teaching fields, unfortunately I only had them as teachers for a brief period.
Rita’s talk is directed towards fellow educators. She wants them to know that developing significant human connection with your students is the key to teaching and guiding students to reach their full potential. Students needs to know that there is someone out there that believes in them. That’s not going to give up them when they don’t deliver the grades. Rita illustrates this in a story. She gave her class a quiz of 20 questions. One student got 18 questions incorrect. Rita wrote a +2 on his paper with a big smiley face. The student questioned why there was a smiley face when he obviously failed the quiz.
Rita told the student that he got two right – he didn’t miss them all. She also suggested to him that the next time he took the test and reviewed the materials he would trump the plus two points. The student agreed that “minus 18 sucks all the life out of you but plus two said I ain’t all bad.”
If Mrs Pierson had of made that student feel shame about getting 18 questions wrong he may not have made any future effort, but by celebrating his achievements he was motivated to do better. I am also willing to bet that he wanted to do his teacher proud. A lesson about self-worth, perspective and learning from failure all disguised in a quiz!
I think educators, especially first year teachers should watch Rita’s Ted talk, to get an insight on how to communicate with youth from someone who has been doing it for forty years. Despite the talk bearing geared at educators, I don’t think that you need to be a teacher to get something from this talk. The basic message is that we need treat each other with respect and dignity. Treat each other like we all matter.
I would love to know your memories about your favourite teacher at school. What made them so memorable and special. Please share your stories in the comments below. Don’t forget to watch Rita’s 7 minute Ted talk. I promise you will be inspired.
Update: After writing this blog post I went on YouTube to check out if Rita had any other talks online. Whilst doing this I l was deeply saddened to learn that Rita died a few months after giving this talk. I have no doubt that her legacy will live on in this Ted talk that has been watched over three million times and been shared between schools and teachers. More importantly I know that her legacy will live on in the lives of the students that she taught.
If you are a teacher or studying to be one, I strongly suggest you google Rita Pierson on YouTube as there are quite a few more talks that have specific action steps for the classroom.