The Most Important Thing I Learned in the Third Grade

Pastor's Life, Personal Development, Podcast

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Third grade started out very badly. I hated my new teacher, and to make matters worse, I was sure that she hated me. Some of the blame goes to my second grade teacher. She was nice – so nice. In fact her name was Miss Nice – really.

Miss Nice had a soft way, a nice way. My third grade teacher was not so nice. She didn’t even look nice. Her shiny dark hair, piercing black eyes, and severe chin gave her the appearance of sternness warmed over – hard baked if you please.

I can remember her face, but for the life of me, I cannot remember her name. I just knew she was not Miss Nice. So, I will refer to her as Miss Mean.

I may have gotten off on the wrong foot by showing up a bit late for school, daydreaming, not comprehending math, and eating paste during art class. I think she hated me most because I didn’t get good behavior gold stars on my bulletin board chart, and that hurt the class standing at the principal’s office.

In a situation like that, what was a kid to do? I decided to get even. Miss Mean would not permit us to write on the back of our assignment papers. I reckoned that she was too lazy to turn the pages as she graded.

That left the back side of every lesson fertile ground for planting my imaginary images. I drew pictures of her with horns, fangs, popping eyes, and a big nose. I hurried with my lessons so that I would have time to invent new ways to disfigure her head. It was, exciting, and it was fun!

Fun that is until the morning Miss Mean motioned for me to come to her desk. My first flashes of thought were purely innocent. I suspected that she was finally going to give me a gold star. But instead of a gold star she showed me a stack of papers – my class assignment papers – turned upside down!

She asked me to look at them. I did. She said I was to take home a note to my mother. You know something, a young boy has a kind of “pit” in his stomach that is strangely pained when he knows the jig is up.

On the way home from school, I puzzled over the question of how Miss Mean found out about my personal art work. I tried to think about who might have snitched on me. Probably some girl who hated me as much as Miss Mean.

Before I delivered the note to my mother, I reminded her of how well I had gotten along with Miss Nice in second grade, and how much Miss Mean hated me in third grade. Mother listened, and told me she would be at the principal’s office the next day to “find out what this was all about.”

I raced to school early the next morning so that I could announce to my pals that my mother was coming to “beat up Miss Mean.” Mother was going to teach that teacher a lesson she would never forget. Tensions were high!

Well, as you have already surmised, Miss mean did not get “beat up.” Instead, tensions were high alright – very high – at home after school that day. The next day, Miss Mean had a talk with me. After the talk, she went from Mean to just mean (if you know what I mean), then not so mean, and then not really nice, but kind-of-nice.

Eventually things worked out. Miss Kind-of-Nice even appointed me to be one of the boys to go to the janitor’s room to bring paste to the classroom on our weekly art day. I still ate it, but only on the way back to class – never in class. I guess I figured that any teacher smart enough to discover my drawings on the back of a lesson page was smart enough to catch kids eating paste in class.

By the way, if you don’t have a clue why I was eating glue, ask a grandpa, he will know about it (and probably how it tasted).

Yes, it seems crazy dumb for a kid in the third grade to think he could draw incriminating pictures on the back of a school lesson and not be caught. But I ask you, is that any dumber than adults who commit acts of deceit on the backsides of life, and think they will never be discovered?

Millennium ago Moses warned, “be sure your sin will find you out” ( Numbers 32:23). Sin is never hidden for long. Turn the page, and there it is. It does not evaporate like something drawn in disappearing ink.

However, it can be forgiven. The Apostle John said it this way, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” ( I John 1:9).

So, what about Miss Mean? Well, Miss Mean was really just a different version of Miss Nice. As a loving and caring teacher, she understood me when I did not understand myself. She was in fact, an angel of mercy

So, I want to say to her even now, “Though I cannot remember your name, I want to thank you Miss Nice, #2. My drawings of you did not do you justice. You really were a very pretty brunette, and very nice too. What I learned from your critique of my not-so-nice artwork, was the most important thing I learned in the third grade.”


by Dennis D. Frey, M.Div., Th.D., President
Master’s International University of Divinity

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