24. Innocent Until Proven Guilty

“The roots of education are bitter,
 but the fruit is sweet.”
— Aristotle


I vividly remember the two days before school started in 1984. I went to a meeting for parent volunteers and twisted an arm or two to find out who Lisa’s teacher would be for her fifth grade year. (Boy, was I sorry that I had been too curious to wait for the news!)

I faced off with the fourth grade teacher whom she  adored as he told me the verdict. “You’re kidding me, right?”

“Well, I figured Mr. Hook wouldn’t challenge her enough and Mr. Martin makes his kids run. And you know how Lisa hates to run. So I put her with …”

“Mrs. Bullen.” I finished his sentence for him.

I had to agree with his reasoning. But all I could think about at that moment was how my daughter had fretted all summer long because she was scared beyond being comforted that she would “get” Mrs. Bullen – an older woman whose reputation as the meanest teacher in the entire elementary school was fueled by her unsettling habit of peering at the children through dark glasses, in and out of the classroom.

I knew instinctively what must ensue – hysterics. “Mom,” Lisa sobbed when I told her the news. “I can’t go through the whole year with Mrs. Bullen when I can’t even see her eyes! Please, please put me in a different class. Please!

I desperately wanted to fix the situation (especially since I was by nature a “fixer” kind of mom), but I knew that there was no way under heaven, without something more than pretense, that I could convince the principal to assign Lisa to a different teacher’s classroom. So she cried. And I tried to dredge up from my childhood every incident I could think of having to do with some horrible fear that had turned out to be not as bad as I had imagined. When at last I ran out of stories and Lisa was still crying, I cried too. And we prayed.

Our tear ducts had dried up considerably by the moment when Lisa and Mrs. Bullen met for the first time. As I think back, I believe that was one of the longest days of my life. All that I really remember was plotting my next move should that “wicked witch” do even the slightest thing to frighten my baby.

When Lisa stumbled through the door that afternoon, crying so hard she could barely breathe, I knew how an over-protective lioness feels concerning the well-being of her cub. “A boy dropped a crayon on the floor and Mrs. Bullen made him pick it up and apologize to the whole class!” Lisa choked out the words. Her eyes widened with terror and through quivering lips she voiced her greatest fear: “Mom, what if some time I drop a crayon?”

To my amazement, I answered her question with another: “What do you know about the boy who dropped the crayon?”

“I don’t like him much.” (Sniff, sniff.) “He gets in trouble a lot.”

“Hmm. Did Mrs. Bullen yell at any of the kids who don’t usually get into trouble?”

“Well … no.”

Enough said. Lisa’s fifth grade year turned out to be one of her most memorable, and Mrs. Bullen remains one of her most cherished teachers. Lisa came to appreciate the opportunity to learn within an environment where responsible behavior was acknowledged and mischief nipped in the bud.

My link with Grace Bullen not only proved advantageous for my daughter, it opened some very unexpected and exciting opportunities for me. The hours that I volunteered and shared my love for creative writing with Mrs. Bullen’s students led to a rewarding consultant position with the public school district.

As a classroom volunteer, I reaped the benefits of nurturing positive communication with my children’s teachers and peers. And that was really going to come in handy when the time came for my son to negotiate the upper grades.


“… do not despise the Lord’s discipline
and do not resent His rebuke,
because the Lord disciplines those He loves …”

(Proverbs 3:11-12)




“A Christian should never let adversity get him down except on his knees.” – Mae Nicholson