“A Lesson for the Teacher,” Ensign, Feb. 2003, 70–71
“Oh, we’re having a substitute teacher today!” exclaimed the eight-year-old girl, seeing me as she came into the classroom. I had arrived early at school in order to look over the lesson plans for Mrs. Allred’s second-grade class. Just as I was getting started, in walked this rather vivacious child named Abby.
Following me around the room, Abby pointed out, in what seemed to me a bossy manner, various things she thought I needed to know. For the next half hour she overwhelmed me with useless information, hindering my efforts to get organized. Who was this child who was advising me on how to handle the class? Her endless chattering was exhausting.
I was relieved when the bell rang and the rest of the class came in. Abby sat down on the chair closest to the teacher’s desk. Of course! Mrs. Allred must have put Abby there in order to keep a close watch on her. “This girl is a troublemaker,” I thought.
Giving my attention to the rest of the class, I noticed a boy on crutches standing hesitantly just inside the classroom door. One of his legs was paralyzed, and his back looked stiff and a little crooked. Abby jumped up and ran to him, talking loudly and walking with him to a seat right next to hers. I wished she would stay in her seat and sit quietly.
The boy’s name was Travis, and I realized that Mrs. Allred must have seated Travis close to her desk so that it would be easier for her to help him. “Travis sits close to the teacher because of his disability,” I thought, “and Abby sits close to her because of the girl’s behavior problems.” I congratulated myself on my quick understanding of the classroom situation and devoted myself to a firm control over Abby.
By lunchtime my stern responses to Abby’s questions were working. Her enthusiasm and eagerness were diminishing, and her manner was subdued. Several times I caught her looking at me with a puzzled expression. She was no longer talking to me, and her quick smile was gone.
The class went to lunch, and I was left to enjoy the quiet of the classroom while I ate. Looking through the window at the children playing, I noticed Travis standing alone outside against the wall of the school. I realized I had not seen him interacting with any of the boys and girls except Abby all morning long. She had talked to him often, and I had reprimanded her for it. Now I watched as Abby came up to him and they walked together to where their classmates were lining up to come into the school. “Maybe she is his only friend,” I thought, and decided to observe the two of them more closely.
The class came flooding into the room, and I watched as Abby helped Travis take off his coat and boots. I remembered seeing her do the same thing after morning recess. She walked him to his chair. “I’ll help you with that math problem now,” I heard her say gently.
I began to notice that each time Travis finished an assignment or colored a page, he shyly showed the work to Abby. She was ready with her praise. Again and again I watched her as she helped Travis, making sure he had everything he needed and giving him encouragement. His face lit up whenever she turned her attention to him. I watched her help Travis get ready for afternoon recess, showing patience and kindness when it took longer for him to maneuver his body out of his chair and use his crutches.
The classroom was empty, and I sat quietly at my desk. How could I have been so wrong? I knew now that Mrs. Allred had seated Abby close to her not because Abby was a boisterous “problem child” but because Abby’s generous nature and kindheartedness made her the best person to help Travis. Who was I to have judged her so quickly and harshly? While I had been showing Abby disapproval, she had been busy helping her friend have a good day at school. I was older, but Abby’s heart was bigger. I had treated her unfairly, and I felt ashamed.
As so often happened during my eight years in a classroom, a child had reminded me of something Jesus taught nearly 2,000 years ago: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matt. 25:40).
The class came back from recess. I waited until they were busy working on an assignment. “Abby,” I whispered, “Abby.” She looked at me apprehensively. “I think you’re the kindest little girl I’ve ever known.”
And once again she taught me an important lesson. The smile she gave me was full of forgiveness.