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The Sixth Time I Went to the Principal’s Office

When I was in third grade, I had problems behaving. My heart was usually in the right place, but my good intentions didn’t quite make it to the surface a lot of the time. No matter how hard I tried, I just kept doing things I shouldn’t.

Here are a few of my infractions:

  • I pulled Megan Daughdrill’s hair on the bus in order to get her attention (it worked!).
  • I wrote a nasty, but nonsensical, poem about Matt Cochran (“There once was a boy whose name was Matt; he was fat and looked like a baseball bat” — What in the world??).
  • I called a classmate a “jackass.” (And by the way, when my teacher asked me where I learned that word, I told her my parents had some books with dirty language in them. I was referring to C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, which has the word “jackass” in one of the seven books. The school wrote my parents a letter asking them to be careful about the kind of literature they were exposing me to. Whoops!)

These offenses and several others resulted in me persistently getting my name on the board with checkmarks next to it, not to mention repeatedly being sent to the principal’s office. I hated going to the principal’s office, but I did not hate the principal.

Mr. Ratcliff was a kind, elderly man, so when he barely spanked me for pulling Megan’s hair, it didn’t hurt at all; but it did hurt my feelings. I thought so much of him, and moments like that felt like conclusive proof that I was hopelessly bad. And contrary to what must have been popular belief, I really did want to be good like the teacher’s pets, but I just didn’t seem to have it in me.

When I got called to Mr. Ratcliff’s office for the sixth time, I had no idea what I had done this time, and I felt dejected as I walked down the hallway. I came into his office, sat down, and looked at the floor. He said the last thing I expected to hear:

“Josh, I’ve heard you’ve been behaving really well lately. I want you to know how proud I am of you, and I just called you down to my office so I could give you a peppermint.”

I was stunned.


“Yep, now you can take that peppermint and go back to class.”

I took the peppermint with me and carried it down the hallway like it was a gold coin. Then I went to class and bragged to my classmates about my turnaround. My third-grade year of misbehaving was redeemed, and Mr. Ratcliff had secured my redemption. What a relief. I wasn’t so bad after all.

I look back at that conversation and a lot of questions come to mind that I haven’t even thought about until recently when I started telling my daughters this story: Who told Mr. Ratcliff to do that? Was my teacher involved in it? Did he do it on his own? What did I do that got his attention?

I have no idea.

I do know this: There’s some kid at your church; at your child’s school; in your neighborhood; or, if you’re a teacher, in your classroom; and instead of thinking they have a problem with bad behavior, they think they’re bad. Help that kid out.

Go buy a cheap bag of  peppermints, and then take the time to notice that child when they get something — anything — right. Take them aside and tell them you need to talk to them, and then do what Mr. Ratcliff did: Give them some hope by giving them some love. They might just remember you for the rest of their lives.

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