When I was in third grade, I had problems behaving. My heart was in the right place, but my good intentions didn’t make it to the surface a lot of the time. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't consistently follow the rules.
Here are a few of my infractions:
- I pulled a girl's hair on the bus in order to get her attention (it worked).
- I wrote an insulting poem about a boy in my class.
- I called a classmate a “jackass" and I called another one a — well, you don't want to know.
These offenses and several others resulted in me repeatedly being sent to the principal’s office. And while I hated going to the principal’s office, I did not hate the principal, Mr. Ratcliff.
Mr. Ratcliff was a kind, elderly man, so when he barely spanked me for pulling my classmate's hair, it didn’t hurt at all, but it did hurt my feelings. I thought so much of him and moments like that felt like conclusive proof that I was hopelessly bad. Contrary to what must have been popular belief, however, I really did want to be good like the teacher’s pets. I just didn’t seem to have it in me.
When I got called to Mr. Ratcliff’s office for the sixth time, I had no idea what I had done and I felt dejected as I walked down the hallway. I came into his office, sat down, and looked at the floor. Then he said the last thing I expected to hear:
“Josh, I’ve heard you’ve been behaving really well lately. I want you to know how proud I am of you, and I just called you down to my office so I could give you a peppermint.”
I was stunned.
“Yep, now you can take that peppermint and go back to class.”
I took the peppermint with me and carried it down the hallway like it was a gold coin.
Then I went to class and bragged to my classmates about my turnaround. My third-grade year of misbehaving was redeemed and Mr. Ratcliff had secured my redemption. What a relief. I wasn’t so bad after all.
I look back at that conversation and a lot of questions come to mind that I haven’t even thought about until recently: Who told Mr. Ratcliff to do that? Was my teacher involved in it? Did he do it on his own? What did I do to get his attention?
I have no idea.
I do know this: There’s undoubtedly some troublemaking kid at your church, at your child’s school, in your neighborhood, or, if you’re a teacher, in your classroom. Unfortunately, that child thinks they're bad, instead of realizing that they're just a kid who has a problem with bad behavior. Help that kid out.
Go buy a cheap bag of peppermints and take the time to notice that child when they get something — anything — right. Then take them aside, tell them you need to talk to them, and do what Mr. Ratcliff did: Give them some hope by giving them some love. They might just remember you for the rest of their lives.