Mrs. Adams gripped a math test, correcting mistake after mistake. Her oversized glasses slipped down her nose making it difficult for her to see the backwards numbers. Even after pushing them back into place, the child’s writing didn’t become any clearer.
She picked up another paper, placed marks here and there, sighing as she worked. The next paper, that of Shelly Winters, was one hundred percent correct. Mrs. Adams wrote a giant Excellent at the top in purple ink.
A smile crossed her face until she saw the next paper in the pile: Billy Chalmers. Something about that boy made her curly gray hair stand on end. She tried to like him, but it was difficult.
With furrowed brow she found Billy slumped in his desk chair. She sighed, knowing that his paper would be riddled with errors. She hated using all that red ink. No matter how many corrections she made, Billy made no improvement.
Mrs. Adams was not known to be kind. Her reputation was one of distributing cruel remarks and harsh with punishment toward those who offended her sensibilities. This was not a good quality in a second grade teacher. In fact, her personality worked in reverse: her students did not prosper and none of them developed a love of learning while in her classroom.
Students learned because they were terrified of the scathing words that signified Mrs. Adams’ displeasure. She never smiled, never offered praise or compliments on work well done. There was never any laughter in her classroom: students were to be seated quietly, at all times.
The only student who seemed to escape criticism was little Shelly. She was a bright, pleasant child, always clean and neatly dressed. Her mother was also the School Board President which was probably why Mrs. Adams never directed her wrath at the child.
Billy was not so lucky. His nose poured no matter the season. His clothes were torn and faded, his shoes had holes in the soles. His hair was greasy tangles that fell below his ears. Breath? Repulsive. There was nothing about Billy that motivated her to want to teach him. In fact, he repelled and disgusted her.
So when Mrs. Adams looked about the classroom and finding the student she sought, she commanded, “William Chalmers, come here immediately!”
“Yes, ma’am,” Billy said as he shuffled to the front of the room. As he stood next to his teacher’s desk, his downcast eyes begged for kindness..
“The answer to question number three is incorrect. Go back and fix it,” Mrs. Adams rumbled. She thrust Billy’s paper into his face, then without a word of encouragement waved him off and then returned to correcting the remaining tests.
Billy did not leave the side of her desk. Despite his fear of angering her, Billy mumbled, “But I don’t know the answer.”
“What did you say, young man?”
“I don’t know the answer, Mrs. Adams.”
She stared at Billy as she put down the pile of tests and picked up her spanking ruler in one svelte move. His eyes widened as the ruler rose far over his head, then came down with lightning speed on his left shoulder, striking with so much force that Billy fell to the floor.
“Get up off that floor, Mr. Chalmers, and quit sniveling.” She watched as a tearful Billy pushed himself into a standing position, picked up his now wrinkled paper, and turned toward his desk. “Do not approach this desk until you have completed the assignment.”
She did not see the tears coursing down his face, or the embarrassed flush to his cheeks. Her focus had returned to the remaining tests, resuming her glower as she scanned each one.
By the time Billy was seated his tears of pain had turned to tears of anger. “I hate Mrs. Adams. I hate Mrs. Adams. I hate Mrs. Adams,” Billy mumbled over and over. He could barely see the numbers on the paper through his tears, but he picked up his pencil and erased his previous calculations. He reworked the problems, getting the same wrong answers. So he did them again, and again, and again, checking the clock now and then hoping that the time to go home would soon arrive.
After the fifth attempt Billy was pretty sure he had the right answer, so he sheepishly walked to his teacher’s desk and handed her the paper. She said not a word as she took the paper from his outstretched hand. Not expecting anything other than an insult, he simply returned to his desk and sat silently, like all his classmates.
“Students,” Mrs. Adams screeched, interrupting the strained silence. “Please put away your pencils and books.” In unison all desktops opened, materials were put away, and tops were gently closed. “Stand.” Mrs. Adams pushed her bulky body out of her chair, stood, and walked slowly down Billy’s row until she stood next to his desk. “Give this note to your parents when you get home,” she barked as she handed Billy an envelope.
“Yes, Mrs. Adams,” Billy sniveled.
Billy streamed out of the room as his classmates joined the throngs pouring into the hall, and out the front door. He walked the blocks home behind a couple of boys who lived on the same block.
When he got to his house, without saying goodbye, Billy walked in the door. His dad was in the kitchen, cutting celery into tiny pieces. He smiled when he saw his son.
“Hi, Billy. Did you have a good day today?”
“No. Mrs. Adams doesn’t like me.”
“I’m sure Mrs. Adams likes all her students,” he said as he scraped the pieces into a bowl.
“Then why was I the only one she yelled at?”
As he added in cream of celery soup, his dad said, “Maybe she’s trying to help you learn.”
“If she wanted me to learn, she’d be nicer,” Billy said, brightening for the first time that day. “I liked First grade a lot. I did real well because my teacher made things fun.”
“School isn’t supposed to be fun.”
“But if Mrs. Adams smiled it would be better.”
“That’s the way it is, Billy. You don’t always get nice teachers. Mrs. Adams is a good teacher. Her students always get the best awards.”
“Oh,” Billy said as he handed his dad the envelope. “She sent this note home. I think she wants you to call.” Billy stood nervously rubbing his left shoe on top of his right one while his dad opened the envelope.
Mr. Chalmers pulled out a folded piece of binder paper. He looked it over carefully. A huge smile lit his eyes as he said, “Congratulations! You got an A+ on this Math test! You should hang this on the refrigerator for your mom to see when she gets home.”
Disbelievingly, Billy took the paper from his dad. Written in purple ink at the top of the page was not only the grade, but also a huge happy face. Billy held his paper as if it were made of fine china, pulled a magnet from off the refrigerator door, and pinned his paper in place.
He skipped outside to the back yard where he ran in circles screaming, “Yes!” as he pumped his fists into the air.