A Teacher, A Story, and A Lesson Learned

Last week, Mercedes’ teacher was away for a few days so the class had a relieving teacher. She told the class a story.

It was about a little girl in a class she teaches at another school. The little girl has cancer. She needed some special blood to get better, so her parents had another baby. But the new baby didn’t have the right blood. Luckily for the girl, her older brother had the right blood so he could help his sister. He had to have a needle in his back and it was very, very painful, but he was brave because he wanted to help his sister.

As Mercedes recounted the story to me on Friday afternoon, I felt my blood run cold. She’s made such amazing progress these past few weeks, and we’ve been working really hard to position school as a ‘safe’ place for her. A place away from all the horrible things she has to endure in the hospital. Like needles. And pain.

Although she seemed to recall the story in great detail, she was unclear about what had prompted the story to come up.  I can’t for the life of me figure out what would possess someone to tell such a story – and in such graphic detail – to a class full of seven-year olds. Even for kids without the additional issues Mercedes has, it’s pretty confronting!

Fortunately, Mercedes seems to have taken it all in her stride, she wasn’t too upset when she was recounting the story, and when I asked her later if it made her feel worried, she shrugged her shoulders and said ‘not really’.  I wondered if perhaps I was over thinking it (as I’m prone to do!), but when I mentioned it to my sister, a teacher, she was also rather horrified. And upon speaking to the school about it today, it became apparent that I’m not the only parent who was concerned about the appropriateness of the story. The school is looking into it.

I have to believe that the relief teacher meant well, that her intentions were good. She can’t possibly have known about Mercedes’ health issues, nor about her anxiety. She couldn’t have anticipated that her classroom audience would include a seven-year old with hospital-related PTSD. Perhaps there was another child in the class who has a sibling with cancer, or a parent. She couldn’t have known.

And therein lies a lesson not only for her, but for me, and for all of us. It’s like the old saying goes (the one that has been attributed to both Plato and Ian MacLaren):


This morning during one of her regular therapy sessions, I had some rather cross words with her clinician. It had been a long time coming, she’s been driving me a little nuts for weeks. But just as that relief teacher didn’t know she was potentially triggering Mercedes’ anxiety, I have no idea why the clinician is so antagonising. I don’t know her back story. I wasn’t unkind, but I was cool and abrupt. Conversely, the FedEx operator who answered this afternoon when I rang in tears because I’d missed a delivery by less than ten minutes? She didn’t know why that delivery was so important to me, but she sensed the urgency in my voice and contacted the driver who turned around and came back to deliver it.

Such is the lesson I’ve learned –  choose your words carefully, because you never know the filters through which your audience will hear them.

And be kind. Always, always be kind.

{linking up with Jess ’cause it’s Tuesday and #IBOT}

Going Bush!
The Twin Dilemma


  1. says

    Wow that is such a confronting story for a 7 year old to take on board, especially as they often don’t quite have the emotional maturity to process it. I’m glad to hear that Mercedes wasn’t phased by it though. I hope that you get some answers as to why she felt the need to share it.
    Tegan Churchill recently posted…I plead insanityMy Profile

  2. says

    So so true on always choosing our words carefully, they really can make such a difference to a person’s day. I am glad that Mercedes seems to have taken the story in her stride. Maybe it some ways it might have been good for her to hear about other kids having to be brave?

    Leaving some fairy wishes and butterfly kisses from #teamIBOT
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  3. says

    Beautiful article and a timely reminder for us all – whether it’s a checkout operator, a clinic receptionist, anyone- you never know what they’re dealing with on the inside.

    I’m a relief teacher. I don’t tell children anything about other children I teach – it’s a matter of privacy. The most I’ve ever said is “Wow, this class is fantastic, one of the best I’ve ever had!” – Gives the kids a bit of a boost.

    Relief teachers have their own challenges – often coming into a classroom last minute on call puts you on an immediate backfoot and you have to be very onto behaviour management.

    You’re right, no one knows what children are each going through, and a class is a big audience of little sponges.

    Credit to you for being a family where opennes is encouraged and Mercedes could speak to you about this!
    Bron @ preschool mummy.com recently posted…Circus activities for little kids!My Profile

  4. says

    Oh no!! Thank goodness your little darling took it in her stride. As a teacher it’s so important to know the background of your students so you can be aware of things like this. On the flip side my class held a Biggest Morning Tea last week for all of the parents and grandparents and certainly we discussed cancer before and after the morning tea so as to give it context and meaning. The students knew so much already as every single one of them knew someone who had cancer. It was also a really good chance for them to ask any questions they were worried about and clear up quite a few misconceptions too! Xxx
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  5. says

    Yes, yes, yes I couldn’t agree more. I admit years back I often had a vicious tongue but I’ve toned it down a lot and now I think before I speak! I’m glad M seemed to just take the incident in her stride, but no, not appropriate!

  6. says

    Oh my gosh I’ve got shivers up my spine. I’m an adult and I still find that story traumatising, it certainly wasn’t a great idea to convert in that context to a class of 7 year olds. As a pre-teacher myself, it’s shocking to think she could think it was a good idea. I’m glad Mercedes took it in her stride though!
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  7. says

    I definitely agree that it was not the right kind of story to be telling an audience of seven year olds. Particularly seven year olds whose background stories she didn’t know. My son is nine and sometime when he hears a story like that he just can’t get it out of his head and keeps asking me question after question about it for weeks. We really need to be so careful with kids. Love the message in this post, Wishing you a peaceful week. xx
    Lizzy – Muddle-Headed Mamma recently posted…One Year of Blogging: The Good, The Bad and The BeautifulMy Profile

    • Emma Fahy Davis says

      Yes, I can’t quite work out why she felt it necessary to share. I mean, it’s one thing to mention it in passing, but the detail with which Mercedes was able to recall it was quite disturbing!

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