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You've Got E-Mail!


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Like most of you, I get e-mail -- lots and lots and lots of e-mail. Most of those e-mails hit the recycle bin almost as fast as they hit my inbox. I received one the other day, however, that caught my eye before my finger reached Delete. So I thought I'd pass it on to a few million of my closest friends!

Like most of you with an e-mail address and an online presence -- or friends with time on their hands -- I get e-mail -- lots and lots and lots of e-mail.

I get ads -- for financial services, beauty supplies, vitamin supplements, business start-up kits, and a variety of products seldom mentioned in polite society.

I get desktop games -- most of them involving some type of cyber weapon and a moving target. I once opened a game in which a hammer smashed a bug to a bloody pulp every time I touched my keyboard. It took me an hour to figure out how to close it!

I get dire warnings about viruses that will completely devour my computer from the inside out and alerts about outbreaks of mall kidnappings that are reminiscent of rumors of the hook-armed murderer who reportedly haunted the lovers' lanes of my youth.

I get jokes -- some of which are actually funny.

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Linda Starr, a former teacher and the mother of four children, has been an education writer for nearly two decades. Starr is the curriculum and technology editor for Education World.


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I get quizzes designed to determine my math ability, my knowledge of trivia, the state of my relationships, or the year of my birth.

I get invitations to apply for more credit, to refinance my home -- and to reduce my debt.

I get conference announcements, singles ads, press releases, and breaking-news bulletins.

I get animated birthday cards with hundreds of glowing candles, Halloween cards with ghosts that pop up on my desktop at unexpected moments, and Valentine's Day cards populated by dancing cupids!

I get inspirational stories recounting deathbed visions, minor miracles, heroic acts, and impossible coincidences that have changed lives -- and the course of civilization.

I get chain e-mails promising that a flood of money (or, in one of the more interesting ones, a steady stream of eligible men) will appear at my door if I forward the message to 100 of my closest friends.

The most prolific e-mails are the inspirational chain mails that preach love for my fellow humans -- and threaten me with a miserable, friendless, poverty-stricken existence if I don't forward them to every man and woman I know.

Most of those e-mails hit the recycle bin almost as fast as they hit my inbox. I received one the other day, however, that did catch my eye before my finger reached Delete. It's such an interesting idea for a classroom activity that I thought I'd ensure myself a lifetime of good fortune -- and possibly a few good men -- by passing it on to a few million of my closest friends!

TO: A Few Million Teachers
FROM: Linda Starr
SUBJECT: The List
MESSAGE:

One day, a teacher gave her students a list of the names of all the students in her class and asked them to write the nicest thing they could think of to say about each of their classmates. That night, the teacher copied the comments onto a separate sheet of paper for each student, creating personalized lists of the nice things written about each of them. The next day, the teacher gave each student his or her list. Before long, everyone was smiling. "I never knew someone thought that about me!" and "I didn't know others liked me so much!" were some of the comments the teacher overheard. At the end of the day, the lists were put away; they were never discussed again. The exercise had accomplished its goal, however. The students were happy with themselves and with one another.

Many years later, one of the students in that class died unexpectedly. His teacher and some of his former classmates attended the funeral. Following the service, the student's parents approached the teacher.

"We want to show you something," the father said as he carefully opened a tattered piece of notepaper that had obviously been taped, folded, and refolded many times. "They found this in Mark's wallet when he died. We thought you might recognize it." The paper was the list of all the good things Mark's classmates had written about him years before. "Thank you so much for doing that," Mark's mother said. "As you can see, Mark treasured his list."

Mark's former classmates began to smile. Charlie sheepishly admitted, "I still have my list too. It's in the top drawer of my desk." Chuck reported that he'd asked his wife to put his list in their wedding album. "I have mine too," Marilyn said. "It's in my diary." Vickie reached into her purse and pulled out her worn list. "I carry it with me always," she said. "In fact, I think we all saved our lists." It turned out that they all had.

There's more to the e-mail, of course -- much more. I have my editorial license, however, and I know how to use it. So I'll end it there.

I don't know whether the story as it's told in that e-mail is true, but the message is clear: Teachers make a difference -- with everything they do. And the most important work they do seldom is found in a curriculum guide or on an assessment test.

So try the activity in the e-mail and, if you like it, forward it to a few of your closest colleagues. You won't (I'm quite sure!) be rewarded with a flood of money -- or even a tiny trickle of eligible mates. But you might make a difference in the life of a single child.