A teacher’s gift

Recently I read about a teacher who one day asked her students to list the names of the other students in the room, leaving a space between the names.

Then she told them to think of the nicest thing they could say about each of their classmates and write it down. The rest of the class period was used completing the assignment. As they left the room they handed in the papers.

That weekend, the teacher wrote down the name of each student on a separate sheet of paper and listed what everyone else had said about that individual. On Monday she gave each student his or her list. Soon the entire class was smiling in astonishment, surprise and disbelief.

Those paper s were not mentioned in class again; she never knew if they discussed them with each other or with anyone else. But the project had accomplished its purpose. The students were happy with themselves and with one another. At the end of the semester they moved on.

Last year one of the students, Mark, was killed in Iraq and the teacher attended his funeral. The church was filled to overflowing with his friends. One by one they passed by his casket. She was the last. As she stood there, one of the soldiers acting as a pallbearer asked, “Were you Mark’s math teacher?” When she nodded, “Yes,” he said, “Mark talked about you a lot.” At the luncheon after the service Mark’s mother and father were waiting to speak to his teacher. “We want to show you something,” his father said, holding out a wallet. “They found this on Mark when he was killed. We thought you might recognize it.”

Opening it he took out a sheet of notebook paper that had been taped, folded and refolded many times. She knew without looking that it was the list of good things Mark’s classmates had said about him. “Thank you for doing that,” his mother said, “As you can see, Mark treasured it.”

A ll of Mark’s classmates were looking on. One said, “I still have mine; it’s in the top drawer of my desk.” Another said, “Mine is in my diary.” Still another took from her handbag a worn and frazzled list, “I carry mine with me at all times. I think we all saved our lists.”

The poet has written: If you have a word of cheer That may light the pathway drear,

Of a fellow pilgrim here,

Tell him so.

Rev. Nichols is Minister Emeritus of First Christian Church, Temple, where he was senior minister for 23 years before retiring. He writes a religious column for several newspapers.

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2012-05-17 digital edition

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