Her pure white, perfectly coiffed hair accompanied by a demure dress and closed-toed pumps mistakenly conveyed softness. By the end of my first week of second grade, I was certain having her for a teacher was going to make my seventh year on the planet the absolute worst of my life. She was mean. And hateful. She would not let Brenda go to the bathroom and then Brenda wet her pants! If we did not go to the restroom at recess, then we had to wait until lunch! We had to be quiet and polite to each other whenever we lined up. Anyone who failed to comply would lose their recess. Her rules were ridiculous!
After a week of living in this hellish class, I complained to my Mom. Every. Single. Day. Until one day my Mom stopped me and said, “Sandy—Mrs. Sturgeon is old. She has been teaching for a very long time and will likely retire soon. She has been doing things this way because this is what works for her and she is not going to change for you, a seven-year-old child. You have a choice. There is something to admire about every person we meet. Even the ones we do not particularly like. You can decide to be angry with Mrs. Sturgeon, find fault with the things she says and does and all that will happen is you will make yourself miserable. Mrs. Sturgeon will be fine. Or you can decide to find things to like about her. You can choose to change your perspective. Put yourself in her shoes. Why did she not let Brenda go to the bathroom? Why does she insist upon everyone in the line being quiet? What is she trying to accomplish?”
Like anything about Mrs. Sturgeon???? Clearly my Mom was insane!
I went back to school the next day, fully believing my life was all but over. Strangely, something started happening to me. When Mrs. Sturgeon told someone no about going to the bathroom, I remembered the person in question had been goofing off, not listening when she was reminding everyone to use the restroom. When Mrs. Sturgeon took recess away for not being quiet in line, I saw it might be because not only was the individual not quiet, but he had pushed the boy in front of him. In fact, Mrs. Sturgeon seemed to see every single child in her class and never punished the entire class for the actions of a few. After a few weeks, she very rarely had to punish anyone at all. Her class was the quietest, most polite group everywhere we went. It made us proud.
The final day of second grade, I was the last kid to leave the classroom. Mrs. Sturgeon would never be my teacher again. I was trying not to cry as I told her I loved her. She hugged me, told me how proud she was to have had me as a student and then gave me an encyclopedia. In 1974, a brand new encyclopedia was a big deal! And I really, really loved books which Mrs. Sturgeon knew.
Hers was the last class in which I ever felt safe until I was nearly out of school and it was because she set the bar high for all of us. What I came to appreciate about Mrs. Sturgeon, I have continued to value throughout my life. People like you better if you are polite. Discipline can be good for us even if we do not like it at the time. Someone has to be the leader and it is better if that person knows what they are doing. You have to learn to follow before you can lead. Your attitude can change your life. Understanding another person may require patience, paying attention to detail and changing your perspective.