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Touch Story
The Nicest Things Part 1

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He was in the first third grade class I taught at Saint Mary's School in Morris, Minnesota. All thirty-four of my students were dear to me but Mark Eklund was one in a million. He was very neat in appearance and 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 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 I made a novice teacher's mistake.
I looked at him 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.

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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 class again. He was more handsome than ever and just as polite. Since he had to listen carefully to learn the "new math", he did not talk as much in ninth grade as he had in the 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. Hence, 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. Following that, 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.
Mark said, "Thank you for teaching me, Sister. Have a good weekend."

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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.


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