"Sign this paper if you don't like Ms. Strom," the note said. I looked up at my classmates whose eyes were all on me. I glanced at my teacher as she pleasantly taught the afternoon class. History, math, science, I could not focus. All I could concentrate on was whether or not to sign the paper. I knew what the right decision was, but the negative feelings I had toward my teacher, as well as my classmates' insisting stares, made my debate more difficult.
Signing this paper was the only thing on my mind. I understood why my friends disliked our teacher. She was very stern and expected a lot from us. This could be very tiring and frustrating, which is why the students had these hostile feelings toward her. I thought, If I sign it, my friends will be pleased, but if I don't, I'd feel better for Ms. Strom's sake and my own. There was this nagging fear that if I signed the paper, my teacher would snatch it right out of my hands and I would be left sitting there, mouth open in shock. I would not want to see her face when she realized what the note said.
My friends began to get antsy, wanting me to sign the paper and pass it along, but I was frozen. I did not know what to do. I pressed the pen down on the paper, then quickly pulled away. I had made my decision - I would not sign. I passed it to the person in front of me and attempted to return my attention to Ms. Strom.
As Ms. Strom continued teaching, the rustling of the paper became a distraction. Soon she snatched the paper and slipped it into the pocket of her sweater. She reprimanded us and continued teaching. That simple piece of paper consumed my thoughts for the rest of class.
After class, Ms. Strom dismissed us for our break. When we returned we took our seats quietly, waiting to see what would happen. Is she going to confront us about the paper? Are we all going to get in trouble? I wondered. To keep my hands from trembling I sat on them. Ms. Strom calmly walked to the front of the class, picked up a piece of chalk and began writing an assignment on the chalkboard. She then announced that this was an extra assignment due to the class' rudeness in creating a disrespectful paper about her and passing it around class.
After what seemed like an eternity, the day was over. I couldn't wait to get home. As I was leaving the classroom to catch my bus, Ms. Strom called my name. My heart started to race as I walked toward her.
"Yes, Ms. Strom?" I asked as calmly as I could. She picked up an envelope from her desk, handed it to me and said "Thank you." I stood there blankly as she turned to straighten up the classroom. Not knowing what to do, I left.
As soon as I got home, I ran up to my room and opened the envelope. I took out the small piece of stationary and read:
I wanted to write and thank you for not signing the paper. It truly shows your character. It must have taken a lot of courage to choose not to sign it. It means a great a deal to me.
Thank you, Ms. Strom
I was shocked that Ms. Strom appreciated me not signing the paper enough to write a thank-you note. I was even more grateful now knowing how much it meant to her. I will never forget this because of the great impact it had on my life. I hope I will continue to make choices like this that build people up instead of tearing them down.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.