*Mrs. Mitchell

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 smooth transition.

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 second-grade class.

She told me to sit down and get busy, and I did. I unpacked my backpack and dropped my pencil box on the floor.

Strike two.

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.

Strike three.

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 that day.

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 but school.

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.

Some 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 children.

Did you ever have a Mrs. Mitchell? How did that affect your life?

*Not her real name. I'm still a little scared she'd come to my house and hurt me.