(Ed. Note: I am sure we all had teachers throughout our school years who we thought were just so-so and those we thought were magnificent, who may have even changed the course of our lives for the better. I will bet that most of us, including myself, did not write letters to the great ones in the years that followed expressing our appreciation. I regret very much that I did not do so, and now the great teachers I had are all deceased. I urge everyone reading this to write letters of appreciation to the great teachers you had throughout your years in school before it is too late. I assure you they will love to hear from you. The following piece is by a now-retired teacher, age 93, graduate of Central High School and Penn State U., who taught English for 35 years at Penn State Ogontz, Abington High School and Council Rock High School in Bucks County.)
By Bennett L. Fairorth
Bill P. was a student in a regular college prep class of mine in the Council Rock Class of 1965/66. He was voted by his peers as the most popular young man in the class. His girlfriend for the entire four years of high school was Delia B. (everyone called her Dee), who was voted most popular girl in the class. She was not in any of my five senior classes. They were married in the early 1970s, and they moved to the west coast. (Bill’s father, Monte, created the legendary Copacabana nightclub in New York City in 1940.)
The final writing assignment for the class (and all the years that followed) was a term research paper on a novel of their choice. (I had to approve the novel.) Bill P. refused to submit a paper, which was a huge chunk of the final grade. He did not give a reason for not doing it. Maybe he expected his charm to confound me. It did not. He failed senior English as a result and did not graduate with his class. Although he was class president, he did not get to lead the 300 seniors in his class into the graduation ceremony.
Bill had to attend summer school for six weeks to earn his diploma and move on with his life. And yes, I just so happened to teach summer school, and he was in my class. It was pass/fail, and he passed. It was a tense situation. Time did ease the anxiety it caused me, however.
In the mid-1970s I received a letter from Dee, who informed me that her husband, Bill P., had earned a BA degree in English and was teaching high school seniors. She said that they had no children and that Bill was not upset about the events of 1965/66 — his failure and my undeterred stand. I was surprised about Dee’s letter since she had never been in any of my classes.
For all the years that have followed, I have received letters from Dee several times a year but never one from Bill, who eventually earned a Ph.D and actually founded a “charter academy” in Idaho in 1999. Their website calls it “the first college preparatory public charter school in the inland Northwest … The successful student will exhibit an outstanding work ethic, excellent time management and the ability to meet a high standard of personal conduct.” Newsweek magazine and U.S. News & World Report have both ranked the school as “the best secondary school in the state of Idaho.”
Over 40+ years, her letters asked about my activities in my classes and my health. She said Bill was sorry that he had offended me by not taking blame for disregarding the major assignment of the nine months of classes, the term/research paper that is a seminal aspect of many college courses. The truth is that over the years, unless a contemporary asked me about this incident, I did not discuss it.
Then yesterday, after 55 years of his getting an F in my class, I received a letter in Bill’s handwriting. He is now retired himself. He thanked me for standing up for my principles. “Thank you for what you did for me. I have great respect for the best teacher I have ever encountered. You changed my life.”
I suppose that if you wait long enough, who knows what magic will come to pass?
In addition to his 35 years of teaching, Bennett L. Fairorth is the author of 15 novels, and he has contributed articles to the Local.