Not So Bad


I met Elena on a college campus. She was small in stature but had a strong, intense presence. She revealed a difficult childhood and spoke of teachers who helped her succeed despite her challenges. The educator who had the greatest impact on her life was Mrs. Carter, her elementary school guidance counselor.

I had been at four different schools by the time I started second grade. I was behind academically and often felt frustrated and angry. I was no stranger to the office because I was frequently removed from class for yelling and throwing things on the floor. Lucky for me, the person who arrived to escort me out of my new class was Mrs. Carter, the guidance counselor. She had a fish tank in her office, and she let me sit and look at the fish until I calmed down. Then she began to tell me about each of the fish. “Look at how they breathe through their gills. I want you to try breathing like that, deep and slow.” She taught me to take deep breaths, counting as the breath flowed in and out.

From that morning on, I would sit by Mrs. Carter’s fish tank every time I felt my emotions escalating. She was always there to listen. Honestly, she was the first adult I could count on. Mrs. Carter worked with my teacher to find ways to keep me in class. She would let me come feed the fish after school if I had a good day. She gave me some assessments to find out why I was struggling, and she found a tutor to help me catch up.

I thought I was a bad kid; so I acted like a bad kid. Mrs. Carter taught me strategies for coping with my emotions instead of acting out. She kept in touch with me even after I moved again. She sent me a letter when I graduated from high school and said she was proud of me. I could believe in myself because Mrs. Carter believed in me.

Listening to Elena’s story made me reflect on the importance of a caring, stable adult when a child’s life is steeped in chaos. Mrs. Carter gave Elena the chance to learn the difference between making a bad choice and being a bad kid, the difference between making a mistake and being a mistake. When did a teacher believe in you so that you could believe in yourself? Share in the comments below.

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