You have to work really hard to fail my class. I am a middle school language arts teacher. I have high standards, but not high ideals. I remember the trauma of middle school and being twelve so well you wouldn’t know it was in the stone age. So I’m a sympathetic teacher. I give time to get stuff done. And I give multiple chances to get it right. Any failing grade can be corrected. Any. All of them. Take your time. Just do it.

So if you’re failing my class it’s because you made a concerted effort to do so. That’s when you meet… The OTHER Mrs. Smith.

My major goal as their teacher is that these young people develop a love and even a passion for reading and writing. Of course, I’d like to see their skills improve, and they do, but my personal drive is to instill the love in them, to create lifelong readers and writers. This is the season of NaNoWriMo, so a big hunk of our class time is spent writing novels, another hunk spent (as all year long) reading them. They love this.

So, when you have to face The Other Mrs. Smith, she catches you in the hall and says before you start the stuff you WANT to do in my room, get out that failed paper you owe me and REDO it so I can put a passing grade on your progress report. Now. (There are a lot of lines: Is THIS the work I can expect from you? Is THIS a grade you’re proud of? Is there some reason in the known universe that you would keep this stinkin grade in here instead of simply FIXING THE PAPER?)

I had three darlings to capture in the hall last Friday before progress report grades were due, one in each of my three classes (that’s not as good as it sounds – I technically teach two subjects, so I have each class for two class periods). Nabbed one – BAM, passing. Nabbed two – BAM, passing.

Number three was a bit of a challenge. Attitude is this fella’s greatest problem. That coupled with the fact that he’d stop to consider his motivation before stepping out of the way of a speeding bus. This is a kid who’s got the sixth grade one shoulder half-shrug down to a science. And he’d been given multiple reminders and chances from me to fix. His. Problem.

(Full disclosure: This was also the last period of a Friday that will go down in the annals as a day to not go down in any annals. Let’s just forget it ever happened, a’ight? That rather escalated my mood.)

So I was in the hall, waiting, looking like a lion at feeding time. My classroom is at the end of the hall and I was standing outside my door, watching the length of the hall, looking for that little head that would soon be on my platter.

Whereishe? Whereishe? Whereishe?

AHA! Finally, I spot him coming my way and I practically growl in victory. He’s a cocky little fellow who walks with a bit of a swagger, but today he seemed different. I squinted (never mind about that, there are no “quadfocals”) and frowned, renewed my stance and readied for the attack.

But there was really something different. As he got closer, I could see he was crying. Not crying – sobbing.


The Other Mrs. Smith cloak went flying off, smacking the wall with a sound like a rifle shot, as the Mama Mrs. Smith swooped down on Little Mister, pulling him aside and out of earshot of his classmates, and tried to understand through gasping cries what had happened.

A cousin had been hit by a car. And somebody told this baby that at school. And left him there.

I shushed and darlinged and I’msosorried and gently got a hand on each shoulder and walked him all the way back down that hall to the counselor’s office, enlisting a free teacher on the way by to cover my class.

After depositing him in good care, I came back to my classroom alternately praying and fuming – but now the fuming was FOR him and not ABOUT him. Amazing what can soothe the savage beast teacher. This kid would be lucky to function enough to read a book when and if he got back to my room. I looked at those failing papers again. Were they really that bad? Had he made enough effort? Could he do better next time? I asked God: What part do grace and mercy play in the classroom, in the grade book?

I pictured that devastated little face, drenched with tears, the shoulders shaking with sobs.

BAM, passing.




4 thoughts on “It Ain’t Just Music that Does It

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