“The Rock Lesson,” Ensign, Aug. 1991, 50–52
Student teaching at Lafayette High School was fun and challenging. I really liked my three classes, each consisting of about thirty to thirty-four freshman girls. We were just finishing up six weeks of track and field.
One morning I awoke and knelt beside my bed to say my morning prayer. As I asked Heavenly Father to assist me in teaching my students well and with fairness, I felt a sense of foreboding. The strong impression came to me that today would not be ordinary. I felt that something bad was going to happen and that I needed to be watchful and prepared.
The first hour went well, and the second was fun and uneventful. Now it was close to the end of my third-hour class. In fifteen minutes, my school day would be over. I remembered the warning and wondered what it could have meant. All had gone well, and this hour, too, seemed to be moving along quite normally.
We were doing the softball throw. Each girl made three attempts, which were measured and recorded. Jane, a student, was assisting me, watching where the softballs landed and calling out the measurements. She was doing a good job, and she seemed proud of that.
Jane had few friends, and I wondered how she dealt with the insecurity and rejection she faced daily. I cared about her and looked for opportunities to show kindness.
So far, Jane had been very accurate as she called out each measurement. Finally, a ball was thrown for which Jane called out a measurement that looked about a foot and one-half short. After a discussion, I told her that I respected her opinion but that since we didn’t agree on where the ball had landed, we had to give the student the benefit of the doubt and record the longer measurement.
At this point, Jane refused to assist me anymore. She got in line with the other girls, and the class continued to throw the softball.
After one measurement, I looked up just in time to see a large rock hurtling through the air toward me. In another instant it painfully stung my right thigh. But the pain that ripped through my heart far outweighed the pain in my leg, which was already beginning to show a little blood. Tears filled my eyes behind my dark sunglasses. What had I done that had hurt one of my students so much that she had wanted to hurt me like this? I had grown to love them all. How could it be that one of them did not know that?
When the rock struck me, the class stood there for a moment in silent shock. Then a few students asked me if I was okay. Others yelled, “Who did it?” I choked back the tears and got control of my shaky voice. I told the class that I was fine, asked them to be quiet, and explained that I did not want to deal with this at the moment.
With a few protests, the girls reluctantly quieted down. They were obviously perplexed. They had never seen a teacher do what appeared to be nothing about something so violent and wrong.
As I watched the softballs hit the ground, I reviewed the events of the last hour in my mind. I realized that only Jane had a reason to be angry with me.
I knew, of course, that I could take Jane to the principal’s office and demand punishment, but what good would that do either of us?
Jane would just feel that I was against her rather than for her. Besides, I had a feeling that if I waited a little longer, she would realize that I meant her no harm and would confess her mistake.
When the last softball was thrown, I dismissed the class. A few students remained to help me gather my things together. Through the corner of my eye, I saw Jane watching us from a distance, looking alone and afraid. Finally, the rest of the girls left. As I watched her, Jane silently and bravely walked across the field toward me. She faced me, lowered her head, and confessed, “Miss Piccione, I threw the rock at you.”
“I know you did, Jane,” I said.
“I’m so sorry, Miss Piccione,” she begged. “Did I hurt you bad?”
“Jane, the only thing that really hurt me was thinking that you must not know that I love you, just as I love all my students,” I replied. “I would never purposely do anything to hurt you. I want you to learn and have fun in my class, but more than anything, I want you to know that you are special and that I care about you and how you feel.”
“Oh, Miss Piccione, I’m so sorry!” she said, with a sincerely repentant look in her eyes.
“It will be all right, Jane. This is just between you and me,” I reassured her as we walked back to the gym.
The following day, as class began, I explained that I knew who had thrown the rock the day before, that I had discussed it with her, and that we had resolved the matter between us. It was important to let my students know they were safe in my class.
That day and for the rest of the school year, Jane insisted on carrying the heavy softball equipment to and from the gym. I hoped I had helped her carry her own heavy load a little more easily.
I know it is not always appropriate to handle a student’s violent behavior in this manner. But Jane learned more that day about love and compassion than she would have if she’d been scolded and punished. So did I: the warning I received that day as I prayed helped me to remain calm, knowing the Lord was guiding me.