You are really a good girl
|Image: All Rights Reserved,|
|Tokyo; London: Kodansha International|
“You are really a good girl, you know.”
That’s what the headmaster used to say every time he saw Totto-chan. And every time he said it, Totto-chan would smile, give a little skip, and say, “Yes, I am a good girl.” And she believed it.
Totto-chan was, indeed, a good girl in many ways. She was kind to everyone—particularly her physically handicapped friends. She would defend them, and, if children from other schools said cruel things, she would fight the tormentors, even if it ended with her crying. She would do everything to care for any injured animals she found. But at the same time her teachers were continually astonished at the amount of trouble she always got into as she tried to satisfy her curiosity whenever she discovered anything unusual.
She would do things like making her pigtails stick out behind under each arm while marching to morning assembly. Once, when it was her turn to sweep the classroom, she opened a trapdoor her sharp eyes had noticed in the floor and put all the sweepings down the hole. It had originally been for inspecting the machinery when it was a real train. But she couldn’t get the trapdoor closed again, and caused everyone a lot of trouble. And then there was the time someone told her how meat was hung up on hooks, so she went and hung by one arm from the exercise bar. She hung there for ages, and when a teacher saw her and asked what she was doing, she shouted, “I’m a piece of meat today!” and just then she lost her hold and fell down so hard it just knocked all the wind out of her lungs and she couldn’t speak all day. Then, of course, there was that time when she jumped into the cesspool.
She was always doing things like that and hurting herself, but the headmaster never sent for Mother and Daddy. It was the same with other children. Matters were settled between the headmaster and the child concerned. Just as he had listened to Totto-chan for four hours the day she first arrived at the school, he always listened to what a child had to say about an incident caused. He even listened to their excuses. And if the child had done something really bad and eventually recognized it was wrong, the headmaster would say, “Now apologize.”
In Totto-chan’s case, complaints and fears voiced by children’s parents and other teachers undoubtedly reached the ears of the headmaster. That’s why, whenever he had a chance, he would say to Totto-chan, “You’re really good girl, you know.” A grown-up, hearing him said it, would have realized the significance of the way he emphasized the word “really.”
What the headmaster must have wanted to make Totto-chan understand was something like this: Some people may think you’re not a good girl in many respects, but your real character is not bad. It has a great deal that is good about it, and I am well aware of that.” Alas, it was many, many years before Totto-chan realized what he really meant.
Extract from the book Totto-chan: the little girl at the window
By Tetsuko Kuroyanagi
All Rights Reserved.
Tokyo; London: Kodansha International, 1996
Extract contributed by Shirley Lim, Librarian, Public Library Services
Recommended Reads (if you enjoy books about inspirational educators)
Available at NLB
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Title: Ms. Hempel chronicles
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Do you have any teachers who have particularly inspired you? How so?