55: A Lesson in Kindness

55: A Lesson in Kindness

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Teachers

A Lesson in Kindness

In life, there are no mistakes, only lessons.

~Vic Johnson

“Did you bring it?” I nodded and returned my gaze to the front of the classroom where Mrs. Hudson stood. The “it” was my new orange skip ball. I couldn’t wait until after school when my friends and I would get to jump for an hour until our parents picked us up. I was only eight years old, but I was as tall as a fifth grader and could jump over the rope really well.

There was a loud creak as the door opened. Miss Swann, the guidance counselor, walked into the room. A girl, as tall as I was but with shorter blond hair, limped in behind her. She kept her eyes focused on the floor.

Miss Swann spoke. “This is Margaret Cooper. She just moved here to Sebring from up in north Florida. Be sure to welcome her to our school.”

I couldn’t take my eyes off what should have been the girl’s left leg. It wasn’t really a leg, just waxy, bumpy skin — a mass of scars with a shoe. The leg-thing was not only scarred but shriveled up, gross and much smaller than the other leg. Girls were not allowed to wear pants to school, but I thought Margaret should be given special permission so she could cover up her leg.

Mrs. Hudson, our motherly gray-haired teacher, placed her arm gently around Margaret’s shoulders and guided her to a seat toward the front, then bent over and whispered something in her ear.

Mrs. Hudson was always so nice to everyone. I adored her. She finished explaining the math problem on the board and announced, “Milk-break time. See you in ten minutes.”

Connie, Rose, and I were the first to race out the door and line up to accept the little red-and-white cartons of milk and paper straws provided by the school. My friends and I huddled on the far corner of the concrete breezeway, near the sweet-smelling jasmine bushes at the edge of the patio. Sarah-Jane spoke up first. “I think Miss Swann said her name was Margaret Cooper Pooper, didn’t she?”

Everybody got the giggles. Cooper Pooper. I looked around to make sure we were alone, leaned in and nodded my head. “Yup, she is Margaret Pooper. Or is that Maggot Pooper?” My friends laughed even louder at my brilliance, so I continued. “Today, let’s meet at the far end of the sidewalk. And make sure she doesn’t follow you!”

I left my friends and skipped back to the classroom before recess ended. I wanted to say hello to my beloved Mrs. Hudson and find out if she liked my latest book report. With her usual big smile, she took my paper from the top of the stack on her desk and handed it to me. But this time she didn’t release her grip on my paper with its big A+ on top until I looked up, directly into her eyes.

She began, “Wendy, you are a good student and a nice person. In fact, I’ve noticed that you’re kind of a leader in the class.”

I basked in her warm approval and smiled. Shifting my weight from one foot to the other, I was a little embarrassed that Mrs. Hudson liked me so much. But I loved how she seemed to know me so well. It was like having a third parent, but better. In her class, I wasn’t the middle child like I was at home. The way she smiled when she called on me in class and her comments let me know how much she appreciated having me around. One time my friends tried calling me the “teacher’s pet,” but I took it as a compliment.

My cherished teacher continued in her quiet voice. “That’s why I am sure you, of all the students in the whole class, will help Margaret Cooper get used to being here and being one of us. I just know you will invite her to play with you and your friends after school today. Thank you for being the quality person you are, honey.”

Her confident words were clear as ice, frozen daggers aimed at my heart, which was now pounding in fear. Guilt erased my smile and made it hard for me to breathe. Did she guess, could she possibly suspect what we had been saying about the new girl? Could she know how awful I was?

I managed a weak smile and nodded. My swirling thoughts and fears made me want to throw up.

I managed to include Margaret in our group although it wasn’t easy, since skip ball required skillful jumping. I know without a doubt that we became friends that day.

While many school memories have faded over the years, the lesson Mrs. Hudson taught me has stayed with me. Margaret Cooper and her family moved away at the end of the school year, but my life was changed forever.

Mrs. Hudson gently guided me, challenging me to think for myself and do the right thing. She believed in me, and because she did, I rose to the level of her expectations, both for Margaret long ago and even in my choice of career.

With the goal of helping others always the guiding force in my life, I have counseled hundreds of potential dropouts, disruptive students, and many dysfunctional families in my lifetime.

I think Mrs. Hudson would be proud.

~Wendy Keppley

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