By the time I entered fifth grade, I was well-acquainted with the principal’s office. I mean, I wasn’t the kind of kid who started fires in the bathroom – I was just a helpless, talkative instigator.
For example, one time I got in trouble when I popped a sandwich bag in class so it would sound like a gun went off. Another time, I wrote a poem making fun of a chubby classmate on the same day his mother was our substitute teacher (bad idea). And then another time, I raised my hand and told my teacher how funny it was that the word “harass” was made up of two syllables, one of which was a curse word.
No joke – all of that and more happened between first and fourth grade. But then in fifth grade, I got into the advanced classes after my mom went to the principal and begged her to put me in there. So at that point, I decided it was time to rein in my act as the class clown.
I did not succeed.
I wasn’t a horrible student in fifth grade. I just took a great deal of pleasure in talking, talking, talking, which meant that my name was a permanent fixture on the board, and I regularly had to stay in for recess (not to mention the fact that I made a couple of trips to the principal’s office).
And although my teachers would’ve found it hard to believe, I wasn’t trying to misbehave. In fact, I remember wanting very much to be a nice boy, but I just couldn’t seem to control myself – that is, unless I was in Mrs. Saucier’s class.
Mrs. Saucier was my English teacher, and for some reason, she decided that she liked me in
spite of my reputation for being a disturbance. Where other teachers saw my talkativeness as a problem that needed to be solved, she gave me opportunities to speak in class – and more importantly, she engaged me in conversations outside of class. She also provided a lot of verbal affirmation, something that is often missing when you’re seen as a problem child.
As a result, I found myself more focused in her class, and I even remember voluntarily writing a short, science fiction story about time travel and turning it in to her (did you get that? I liked my fifth-grade English teacher so much that I did homework for her that she did not even assign).
She read my short story and wrote on the paper, “Great job! I’ll vote for you when you run for President!”
I took those words to heart, believing that I could be somebody. And I had every reason to believe it: Mrs. Saucier had said it, and I thought the world of her.
But then one day I let her down.
We were studying Greek mythology and Mrs. Saucier asked us to think of ways that the gods could affect nature. One kid said, “Poseidon could’ve made a big storm in the ocean.” Another kid said, “Aphrodite could’ve made people want to get married.” I raised my hand, and Mrs. Saucier called on me.
“Zeus could’ve broken wind,” I said, laughing at my witty fart joke. The other kids laughed too – mission accomplished.
“Joshua, I want you to stay after class,” Mrs. Saucier said very seriously.
Blood rushed to my stomach, and I felt like I needed to go to the bathroom. I had done it again, and I had done it to my favorite teacher.
I still remember her response.
At the end of class, I walked up to Mrs. Saucier’s desk with my eyes downcast.
“Joshua,” she said gently.
I looked into her eyes. There was a little bit of disappointment, but there was mostly love.
“You know, I take a lot of time to prepare my lessons, and when you made that inappropriate joke, it distracted the other students, and it made me feel disrespected. I hope you won’t ever do that again.”
“I won’t,” I said sincerely.”Okay,” she said with a smile, “you can go.”
In that moment, I felt so safe, so cared for – I felt free – free to start over, free to start doing the right thing again. And, in fact, I did do the right thing in her class for the rest of the year. She never had to correct me again.
I don’t know where Mrs. Saucier is today. I managed to track her down when I was college, and we had a sweet conversation over the phone, but when I tried the number again later, it was disconnected.
So wherever you are Mrs. Saucier, if you see this, I want to say thank you. Thank you for making me feel like I actually belonged in the advanced classes. Thank you for doing more than teaching me – thank you for loving me in spite of my reputation as a problem child. Thank you for telling me that I could be President – for making me believe I could do something big. And thank you for giving me room to turn around when I let you down.
There’s no way to know just how big of a difference you made – but I can tell you this, Mrs. Saucier: you played your part, and it was significant. I love you for it, and I’ll forever be grateful. And one more thing: I pray that today, someone is loving you the way you loved me, because God knows that’s what we all need, no matter how old we are.