When I was 7, the need arose for my parents to transfer me
to a new school. My mother took me for a tour, so I was able to meet my new
teacher as well as see my new classroom. I had cousins in that class and
since I knew them, it should have helped make me feel more at home in a new
place. It was good prep...all anybody could have done to support a
Still, I was scared out of my little wits getting off the
bus that morning.
The bus let us out in a different place than where I had come
into the main office with my mother. All the kids ran off in different
directions, and I simply had no idea which way to go. When the tardy bell rang,
I was still walking around in the courtyard trying to figure out which, of the
15 identical doors lining the perimeter, was the one I should enter. I remember
my new Keds being soaked to the socks from dew-covered grass by the time an adult
finally stopped me and asked me what I was doing. She knew exactly which door
was Mrs. Mitchell’s, so she took me in.
Strike one with Mrs. Mitchell was being late to her
She told me to sit down and get busy, and I did. I unpacked
my backpack and dropped my pencil box on the floor.
Completely overwhelmed by being lost and in a new place and
not knowing anyone and now being in trouble on the first day when I was very
much accustomed to being the teacher’s pet, my eyes filled with tears and
brimmed over. I hid them, wiping quickly. They filled again.
I couldn’t see the board to do my work because I was trying
not to let anyone know I was crying by keeping my head down and when I did lift
my head, I could not see through my tears.
After a few minutes, all I had on that thin, recycled,
writing paper with its blue and pink lines, was my name.
Mrs. Mitchell saw that I had no work done and that I was crying,
and grabbed her paddle. She swung it around over her shoulder and said I was
nothing but a crybaby. She told me if I didn’t stop, she would give me
something to cry about.
I remember sitting in that old wooden desk, tracing the
groove marks over and over and over with my pencil, just trying to pull myself
together. There was a window above Mrs. Mitchell’s door, and I remember vividly
an escape plan forming in my mind. I envisioned myself climbing up the wall and
out that window and running and running and running and running until I was
somewhere…anywhere…but there. It was a lot to take in for 8:30 in the morning.
It smelled like pencil shavings and dust in that room, and long as I live I’ll never forget not only how it smelled but also how my teacher made me feel
Mrs. Mitchell doesn’t teach anymore. I’m not even sure if
she is still alive, but even after all these years she remains one of the
meanest people I have ever encountered. I was so terrified to tell my mother
what had happened, because I was truly afraid Mrs. Mitchell would come to my
house and hurt me. Thankfully, my mother quickly rectified the situation with
an appointment the next day. The next year, when I returned to that school, and
for the next three years, I had the sweetest, kindest, most loving and caring
teachers God has ever put on this earth. They more than made up for Mrs. Mitchell.
Mrs. Mitchell was trusted with not only the minds but also the
hearts of 20 second graders every single day. She had the choice to either
build us up or tear us down. She chose poorly.
There are Mrs. Mitchells in every preschool, elementary,
middle, and high school. They may not have paddles to swing, but they cut a baby
down faster with their harsh words and negative attitudes than anyone could
with sticks and stones. They make kids want to run away, to be anywhere
The thing about Mrs. Mitchell was that she made her mind up
about me when I was late. She didn’t care that there was a perfectly reasonable
explanation for it. She didn’t know I was a good kid and she did not care,
because she had decided for herself who I was and what I was capable-or not
capable-of. Those are powerful decisions to make about a student.
It makes me sick to my stomach to consider where I might be
today if I had a Mrs. Mitchell every year.
The truth of it is, some kids do.
Some kids are good kids, but no one will give them the
benefit of the doubt. Some students have made poor choices in the past but they
need someone to empower them to make better decisions in the future.
children need a grown-up to look them in the eye and tell them they can and
will and should make something of their lives because they matter.
Some kids not only have Mrs. Mitchells teaching them all day
long, they also have Mrs. Mitchells as a mama or daddy, too, and for them it is
even more important for us as teachers to speak hope into the souls of these
Did you ever have a Mrs. Mitchell? How did that affect your
*Not her real name. I'm still a little scared she'd come to my house and hurt me.