In the fifth grade we had a substitute teacher.
I have no idea what her name was.
All I remember was that she was young, kind of pretty and she had served a mission in Bolivia -- the same place as my dad.
This was a particularly good day for Mrs. Parker's fifth-grade class. Not only was our teacher gone and so we didn't have to turn in our homework, but so was on one of our classmates.
This girl had bullied me for almost three years by the time the Bolivian substitute showed up. I was weary of her constant teasing, belittling and cruel tactics to make my life miserable. Looking back I can see how desperate she was for attention. There were clearly some issues at home she wasn't dealing with well and most 10-year-olds don't automatically know how to torture others -- that's a gift that's learned.
At the time, however, all I could think about was how nice it was to have a day where I was free to talk to any person in the class I wanted without wondering how it would come back to hurt me. I could choose any game at recess without being told I wasn't welcome.
I was not the only person under this girl's thumb so I was not the only one rejoicing. A group of us stood in line waiting to be excused for lunch chattering about our joy and sharing horror stories. It didn't help her last name rhymed with "Rottenstein."
The substitute must have thought we were awful. Who is this poor picked-on girl they're making fun of so mercilessly? she was probably thinking. I could see that look on her face and I rushed to defend ourselves.
"I promise we're not mean people!" I told her. "She really is an awful person. If you only knew how horrible she was to us."
The teacher acknowledged my comments and then thoughtfully said, "All I know is that if you feel the need to talk about someone behind their back it's probably because you're worried someone is talking about you in the same way. You should try to be the kind of person where people don't have anything negative to share."
I've never forgotten that lesson.
I remember very little about the rest of fifth grade. I'm sure there were planets we studied and field trips and girl drama. I'm sure there were fights and tears and bonding.
I do, however, remember that substitute every time it crosses my mind to spread something negative about someone else. Fourteen years later it's still a hard lesson. But I'm getting better.