41: The Gift of Dignity

41: The Gift of Dignity

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just for Preteens

The Gift of Dignity

I like a teacher who gives you something to take home to think about besides homework.

~Lily Tomlin as “Edith Ann”

I don’t remember her name but I remember the day as if it were yesterday. I don’t remember what day or time of year it was, but what my teacher did for me that day was etched in my memory and changed me for the rest of my life.

It began when I entered my classroom and the teacher announced for us to clear our desktops as we were going to have the math test she told us about the day before. Having never had trouble with math before, I hadn’t bothered to study and I thought I was ready. When I took a look at the paper full of what looked like hieroglyphics to me I began to panic. The first few problems were easy but I was stumped when I got to the middle of the page. I did the best that I could, then left my seat to put my paper in a pile on the front desk with a sigh. I knew I had blown it.

I returned to my seat and then an idea popped into my head. I checked where the teacher was before I made my move. She was strolling in the back of the room with her back turned. I left my seat and went back to the pile of test papers already handed in and when I picked up my test I also included the test right below it before returning to my seat. When I looked at the extra test I had taken I discovered it was the work of the smartest girl in our class and I felt great about my luck. I went to work with my eraser and copied her answers to my paper. I checked that the teacher was still not paying attention and returned both papers to the top of the pile on the front desk. I made it! Nobody was paying any attention. I figured I was home free.

The next day the teacher handed back our tests turning them face down on everyone’s desks, smiling at each student and raising her eyebrows at me over her smile. When I turned my test over I was shocked to see an “F” on it, with, “Does not know material” written across the top. Wow, the person I had copied didn’t know the answers either. At recess I approached the girl whose test I had copied and said to her, “Boy, that math was tough. I failed it. I guess we need to study more.” Her happy reply was, “Not me, I got every one right and got an A.”

The teacher knew. I forgot teachers have eyes in the back of their heads! How could I be so stupid? The teacher never said a word to me about cheating but I got the message loud and clear. She never embarrassed me in front of the class, but her smile said everything to me when she handed me my “F.” She allowed me to keep my dignity. The turmoil was in my own heart and I made a promise to myself never, ever to cheat again. I would remember to always be honest in the things I do and — first and foremost — study, study, study! I never forgot that teacher who failed me when, really, I had failed myself.

~Mary Grosvenor Neil

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