A teacher hears one of his pupils mock a girl whose father is a garbage collector and decides to teach him a lesson about values he will never forget.
Jeff Herbert was a teacher who loved teaching. He especially loved nurturing young, brilliant minds and helping them to reach their full potential. He especially hated nothing that crushed their young spirits.
Eight-year-old Caroline North was one of Jeff’s favorite students. She was a sweet, very shy girl, and Jeff had been trying to coax her into being more participative in class — but instead, Caroline was withdrawing deeper into her shell — and then Jeff found out why.
He’d been in his classroom alone after the last bell, and he heard jeering voices coming from down the hall near the lockers. “Don’t touch her!” cried a boy’s voice. “She smells!”
“I don’t,” cried a little girl’s voice.
Treat everyone with respect if you want to be respected.
“Yeah…you do!” sneered the boy’s voice. “Just like your dad!”
“My dad doesn’t smell!” the girl sobbed. “He doesn’t!”
“He’s a garbage man, you think he smells like ROSES?” mocked the boy.
Jeff got up, opened his door, and walked as quietly as he could down the corridor. By the lockers stood Caroline clutching her backpack to her chest and in front of her stood the biggest bully in his class: Daniel Mallow.
Daniel wasn’t alone, bullies rarely are. He had his two favorite hangers egging him on. Tommy Jones said: “Do you think she puts the trash from the classrooms in her backpack?”
“Just like her daddy!” chimed in David Barrino. “I’ve seen him driving the garbage truck in our neighborhood!”
“Nah!” said Daniel grinning. “Her backpack IS from the trash! Her daddy brought it home from work for his baby girl!”
By the time Jeff got to them, Caroline was sobbing and the boys were laughing, but they stopped as soon as they saw the teacher. “What’s going on?” Jeff asked. Caroline shook her head and looked away and the three boys ignored him.
“I heard everything, Daniel,” Jeff said. “I’ll be talking to your father tonight.” He turned to the other two boys: “And to yours too, Tommy and David. Get to class!”
But Daniel was sneering. “You think my dad is going to like you defending some loser?”
“Loser?” Jeff frowned. “What do you mean?”
“Well, Caroline’s dad is a garbage man, isn’t he?” asked Daniel arrogantly. “If that’s not a loser I don’t know who is!” Jeff was so angry that he opted fro walk away and back to his class.
He picked up his phone and called Daniel’s father. He quickly explained what happened and Daniel’s part in the incident. He was stunned by Mr. Mallow’s response.
“Well, you can’t very well blame the boy for telling the truth, can you?” drawled Mr. Mallow. “The man IS a loser. I mean, we should all aim a little higher don’t you think? Be useful to society and all that?”
Jeff hung up the phone and he was even angrier than before — but an inkling of an idea had been born in his mind, so he phoned Caroline’s father and the two men had a long and very interesting conversation.
The next morning, the children noticed that Mr. Herbert was absent — and so was Daniel Mallow, who only arrived at school after lunch smelling of refuse. He was very quiet and wouldn’t speak to anyone.
All his friends were curious and kept asking him what was wrong, but the usually talkative Daniel was quiet as a mummy. He didn’t even want to pick on Caroline!
Tommy said, “Come on, Dan! Let’s go turn garbage girl upside down!” But Daniel threw Caroline a frightened look, mumbled something, and ran away. His friends were stunned.
The next day, the whole school was laughing. “Hey, did you hear what happened to Daniel’s dad’s car? The fancy new BMW? Some apprentice garbage man pushed the wrong lever and dumped his load all over the car!”
It was an eight-day-wonder, and for a long time, Daniel was teased about how his father’s brand new car smelled of garbage (which it did). As for what had happened, it was very simple…
Jeff had convinced Mr.North’s boss to let him drive the garbage truck for one night (he told him he was researching for a novel he was writing) and when he stopped in front of Daniel’s door, he accidentally pushed the wrong lever…
Mr. Mallow’s car was buried under a giant heap of smelly refuse, and as a result, he was late for work the next morning — and so was Daniel. Jeff owned up to his mistake and offered to pay a fine, but a red-faced Mr. Mallow waved him off.
It took months for the smell to fade from Mr. Mallow’s car and no matter how many times he had it washed it still smelled faintly of fishbone on very hot days. As for Daniel, he learned to respect each man’s expertise and the value of an honest day’s work.
What can we learn from this story?
- Every job has dignity if it is well done. There are no ‘nobler’ professions — each job is essential to the good functioning of our society — as the Mallows learned when they were ‘drowned’ in the garbage,
- Treat everyone with respect if you want to be respected. Daniel mocked Caroline, but Jeff showed him what it was like to be the one people laughed at.