We all need it, no matter who we are, no matter how many years we’ve been kicking around the planet. We need someone who believes in us. So it is easy to understand why Rita Pierson’s 2013 TED talk went viral. Imagine what it must have been like to be in her class when she hit on the idea of starting the year by telling her students:
You were chosen to be in my class. Because I am the best teacher and you are they best students, they put us all together so we could show everybody else how to do it.
She gave them a saying, which must have made them stand taller and study harder:
I am somebody. I was somebody when I came. I’ll be a better somebody when I leave. I am powerful, and I am strong. I deserve the education that I get here. I have things to do, people to impress, and places to go.
Pierson spent her entire professional career as an educator, mostly in the classroom. She had the same doubts and disappointments as any other teacher, but she believed too much in what she was doing to throw in the towel. In a story she wrote for Huffington Post, Pierson said:
Teachers don’t make a lot of money. They are usually not deemed worthy of news coverage unless there is a scandal or a strike. Most of the time, their major accomplishments are shared only with colleagues and family members and not the media. The celebration is often cut short by some catastrophe the next day. Yet, in spite of the highs and lows, I cannot think of another profession that brings both joy and challenge on a daily basis.
Pierson died a few months after giving her TED talk. She left a legacy in all the students she inspired and the young teachers she encouraged. Thanks to her popular talk, she also left a legacy for the rest of us. We all need champions, who encourage and inspire us, who lead us by example, and who hold out a hand when we stumble. Rita Pierson was one of those people. She leaves behind a beacon of hope.