A couple days ago, I came back from lunch break to find several of my girls crying at their desks. When I asked what was wrong, Ohemaa tearfully explained the trouble they were in. Apparently her little first grade sister, Eno, had brought a toy comb and mirror and was playing with them in class, and one of her classmates, Demetria, tattled on her. Eno’s toys were confiscated and Eno was made to stand outside of the classroom for the rest of the period. After Ohemaa found her sister crying during lunch break, she and her friends ganged up on little Demetria, lecturing her that she shouldn’t have gotten Eno into trouble. When the Class 1 teacher, Madam Lizzy, found out about this, she sent someone to call the fourth grade girls. Through some miscommunication, they didn’t come right away, which pissed Lizzy off quite a bit. When the girls finally showed up at her classroom, Madam Lizzy told them that she would tell Sir Tony to cane them in front of the whole school at the next assembly for not respecting a teacher.
“I won’t come to school tomorrow!” Ohemaa sobbed. “I don’t want to be lashed in front of the school!”
“I don’t want you to be lashed, either!” I said, wiping the tears off her pretty little cheeks with my fingertips.
“Miss Kate, please, we beg you, plead with Madam Lizzy! Tell her not to make Sir Tony lash us!” the other girls cried. About half of the Class Four girls were in trouble. How could I just stand around and let them be lashed without at least trying to stand up for them?
The next morning, I talked to Madam Lizzy about it. She became quite heated when she told me her side of the story. I told her I understood why she was angry and that what the girls did was wrong, but I pleaded with her not to lash them, to give them another punishment instead. She shook her head, and told me she would call them all forward during assembly tomorrow so they could explain in front of the whole school what they did and why it was wrong.
At school’s closing, I gathered the girls who were in trouble with Madam Lizzy and explained to them why she was punishing them. When the girls realized they were going to be called forward and humiliated in front of the whole school, they burst into tears.
“Oh, Miss Kate! Please don’t let them disgrace us in front of the whole school! That’s even worse than being lashed!”
“You’re the ones who have disgraced yourselves by acting the way you did,” I said calmly. “Listen, you are all good girls. I know this. But what you did was not good.”
“Miss Kate, you don’t understand!” and they explained to me in detail what happened. I acted as sort of the mediator, telling them what Madam Lizzy had said, and as we talked it out, we realized that there was a big miscommunication between them. They asked me to tell her what really happened, but I reminded them that I had already tried talking to her about it. “Why don’t you girls go and explain to her what happened?” I suggested. We had talked about it for so long that only four of the punished girls remained; the rest had already gone home.
“That’s a good idea. Let’s go talk to her,” Karen said boldy. But Ohemaa wrapped her arms around me, sobbing into my side, and begged me to go with them because she was too afraid to go alone.
“No, we should be the ones to talk to her,” Karen said. “Come on, let’s go. Let’s go talk to Madam Lizzy.”
“Miss Kate, please come with us, just to watch,” Ohemaa said, clinging to my hand.
“No,” Karen insisted, “we must do this on our own. If Miss Kate comes, the trouble might get worse.”
“Oh, okay,” said Ohemaa, and she was visibly shaking with fear. “But Miss Kate, can you please be nearby for support?”
“I’ll be standing right here. You girls can do it! But, before you go, a word of advice,” I said seriously, and the girls huddled around me. “I recommend you start with an apology. I strongly recommend you start with an apology. Apologize first, before you say anything else. Say you’re sorry before you explain what happened. Okay? Go for it. Good luck!”
Filled with dread, the Karen, Ohemaa, Nana Ama, and Makeba held hands and headed towards Class 1. I waited down the hall, and a few minutes later, I heard them running towards me. They threw their arms around me when they reached me, thanking me endlessly.
“We are saved! We are saved!” they chanted, dancing around, hugging each other, as though they just found out their village would be spared of deadly plague. They breathlessly told me what happened, reenacting how they apologized to Madam Lizzy, and describing her reaction.
“She said she forgives us!” they said, completely overjoyed. They all hugged and kissed me, thanking me for saving them.
“It wasn’t me! You were the ones who talked to her!” I said.
“But you’re the one who encouraged us and told us what to say!” Karen said. “We couldn’t have done it without you!”
“Miss Kate, you’re a hero!” Ohemaa said, and she kissed my cheek a dozen times.
“You’re the ones who were brave enough to go apologize!” I said. “But I’m so very glad you won’t be lashed or disgraced! What did you learn from this? First of all, I hope you learned how important apologies are. Apologies can go so far! They are so powerful!” I said.
“Yes, Miss Kate! We learned that we can be forgiven if we’re really sorry!” Karen said, and her eyes were glistening with tears of joy.
“Secondly, I hope you learned something about forgiveness. Madam Lizzy forgave you when you wronged her. What do you have to do for other people, now, when other people do something wrong to you?”
“Forgive them!” they chanted.
“That’s right! Also, you know if you had run away or not come to school, the trouble would only have been worse. Running away from your problems doesn’t solve them. You need to face your problems.”
“Oh, thank you, Miss Kate!”
I’ve never felt so appreciated in my entire life. Those girls hugged me, thanked me again and again, told me how wonderful of a teacher I am, and promised to bring me nice gifts for my birthday. When I reminded them that all I want for my birthday is for them to follow all the rules in class and to do their homework, they promised that they would be so good and quiet during class.
“But what about the other girls who already went home? Will they be punished?” the four lucky ones asked themselves. None of us knew, until the following morning. The four who had apologized accompanied the others to Madam Lizzy’s classroom, and a few minutes later, I heard screaming. A couple of the girls ran in to tell me the good news that Madam Lizzy had forgiven them all!
After assembly, I walked in on Class Four A during morning prayer. They were singing a worship song like they usually do, but the girls who had been forgiven were clapping, dancing, and praising the Lord in the most sincere song of praise and thanksgiving that I’ve ever seen in my life!