Our friends the Iverson's in Sturgis sent this email to me! I wish all teachers would do this.
He was in the first third grade class I taught at Saint
Mary's School in Morris, Minnesota. All 34 of my students were
dear to me, but Mark Eklund was one in a million. Very neat in
appearance, he had that happy-to-be-alive attitude that made even
his occasional mischievousness delightful.
Mark talked incessantly. I had to remind him again and again that
talking without permission was not acceptable. What impressed
me so much, though, was his sincere response every time I had
to correct him for misbehaving. "Thank you for correcting me,
Sister!" I didn't know what to make of it at first, but before long
I became accustomed to hearing it many times a day.
One morning my patience was growing thin when Mark talked
once too often, and then I made a novice teacher's mistake. I
looked at Mark and said, "If you say one more word, I am going
to tape your mouth shut!" It wasn't ten seconds later when Chuck
blurted out, "Mark is talking again." I hadn't asked any of the
students to help me watch Mark, but since I had stated the
punishment in front of the class, I had to act on it. I remember the
scene as if it had occurred this morning. I walked to my desk, very
deliberately opened my drawer and took out a roll of masking tape.
Without saying a word, I proceeded to Mark's desk, tore off two
pieces of tape and made a big X with them over his mouth. I then
returned to the front of the room. As I glanced at Mark to see how
he was doing, he winked at me. That did it! I started laughing. The
class cheered as I walked back to Mark's desk, removed the tape,
and shrugged my shoulders. His first words were, "Thank you for
correcting me, Sister."
At the end of the year, I was asked to teach junior-high math. The
years flew by, and before I knew it, Mark was in my classroom
again. He was more handsome than ever and just as polite. Since he
had to listen carefully to my instruction in the "new math," he did
not talk as much in ninth grade as he had in third. One Friday, things
just didn't feel right. We had worked hard on a new concept all
week, and I sensed that the students were frowning, frustrated with
themselves and edgy with one another. I had to stop this crankiness
before it got out of hand. So I asked them to list the names of the
other students in the room on two sheets of paper, leaving a space
between each name. Then I told them to think of the nicest thing they
could say about each of their classmates and write it down. It took
the remainder of the class period to finish the assignment, and as the
students left the room, each one handed me the papers. Charlie smiled.
Mark said, "Thank you for teaching me, Sister. Have a good weekend."
That Saturday, I wrote down the name of each student on a separate
sheet of paper, and I listed what everyone else had said about that individual.
On Monday, I gave each student his or her list. Before long, the entire
class was smiling. "Really?" I heard whispered. "I never knew that meant
anything to anyone!" "I didn't know others liked me so much." No one
ever mentioned those papers in class again. I never knew if they
discussed them after class or with their parents, but it didn't matter.
The exercise had accomplished its purpose. The students were happy
with themselves and one another again.
That group of students moved on. Several years later, after I returned
from vacation, my parents met me at the airport. As we were driving
home, Mother asked me the usual questions about the trip, the weather,
my experiences in general. There was a lull in the conversation. Mother
gave Dad a sideways glance and simply said, "Dad?" My father cleared
his throat as he usually did before saying something important.
"The Eklunds called last night," he began. "Really?" I said. "I haven't
heard from them in years. I wonder how Mark is." Dad responded
quietly. "Mark was killed in Vietnam," he said. "The funeral is tomorrow,
and his parents would like it if you could attend." To this day I can still
point to the exact spot on I-494 where Dad told me about Mark.
I had never seen a serviceman in a military coffin before. Mark looked
so handsome, so mature. All I could think at that moment was, "Mark,
I would give all the masking tape in the world if only you would talk to
me." The church was packed with Mark's friends. Chuck's sister sang
"The Battle Hymn of the Republic." Why did it have to rain on the day
of the funeral? It was difficult enough at the graveside. The pastor said
the usual prayers, and the bugler played taps. One by one those who
loved Mark took a last walk by the coffin and sprinkled it with holy
water. I was the last one to bless the coffin. As I stood there, one of the
soldiers who acted as pallbearer came up to me. "Were you Mark's math
teacher?" he asked. I nodded as I continued to stare at the coffin. "Mark
talked about you a lot," he said.
After the funeral, most of Mark's former classmates headed to Chuck's
farmhouse for lunch. Mark's mother and father were there, obviously
waiting for me. "We want to show you something," his father said, taking
a wallet out of his pocket. "They found this on Mark when he was killed.
We thought you might recognize it." Opening the billfold, he carefully
removed two worn pieces of notebook paper that had obviously been
taped, folded and refolded many times. I knew without looking that the
papers were the ones on which I had listed all the good things each of
Mark's classmates had said about him. "Thank you so much for doing
that," Mark's mother said. "As you can see, Mark treasured it." Mark's
classmates started to gather around us. Charlie smiled rather sheepishly
and said, "I still have my list. I keep it in the top drawer of my desk at
home." Chuck's wife said, "Chuck asked me to put his in our wedding
album." "I have mine too," Marilyn said. "It's in my diary." Then Vicki,
another classmate, reached into her pocketbook, took out her wallet
and showed her worn and frazzled list to the group. "I carry this with me
at all times," Vicki said without batting an eyelash. "I think we all saved
our lists." That's when I finally sat down and cried. I cried for Mark and
for all his friends who would never see him again.
The density of people in society is so thick that we forget that life will
end one day. And we don't know when that one day will be. So please,
tell the people you love and care for that they are special and important.
Tell them, before it is too late.
Be ALL you can be!!
Have an incredible day!!