You Catch More Flies With Honey Than Vinegar, But Get Real

Sep 29, 2020

A tale of two teachers.

Vinegar. On the second day of class, Margot forgot her math book. Her teacher Miss Thomas realized this immediately and asked, “Margot, where is your book?” Margot said she had forgotten it. Miss Thomas said, “Well, try to remember it tomorrow,” and then told Margot’s partner to share with her.

The next day, Margot forgot her book again. Miss Thomas was vexed but remembered the old saying, “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” so she told Margot to try very hard not to forget her book again. Margot nodded. Margot looked on with her seat partner again, but the two girls whispered to one another often and Miss Thomas had to politely ask them to be quiet several times.

Margot remembered her book the following day and Miss Thomas felt vindicated.

If she had scolded Margot the previous day, the girl might have become embittered against Miss Thomas, the school, even the whole task of education. But Miss Thomas had held her tongue, used honey, and now she had won her student over.

However, Margot forgot her book the day after that, then again, once more, one more time, and then she had forgotten her book every day for a week straight.

During this week, Miss Thomas gave little lectures to the whole class on the importance of coming prepared, although these lectures were only meant for Margot, who peeled the glossy laminate from her desk while Miss Thomas spoke. Miss Thomas did not want to single Margot out and shame her for her forgetfulness. Some children are just forgetful, simple as that.

But Margot sometimes forgot her book at home and sometimes she forgot it at school. She had a tendency to forget her book at school on nights she had homework, which meant she came to school the next day claiming, “I forgot my book, so I couldn’t do the homework.” The first time this happened, Miss Thomas gently talked with Margot about being responsible, about growing up, about how we all forget sometimes, and about how Jesus died for our sins. The second time this happened, Miss Thomas asked Margot to come to her class during lunch so she could finish her homework, but Margot had a basketball meeting at lunch and so Miss Thomas let it slide.

The third time it happened, Margot came to Miss Thomas’s room at lunch and finished three of ten problems, but Miss Thomas didn’t want to anger the child, so she said the three problems were enough. “I can see you understand how to do this work,” she said, even though Margot had only answered one of the problems properly.

Margot failed her first math quiz, of course, but Miss Thomas didn’t want to crush the girl’s spirit, so she allowed her to retake the quiz. Margot couldn’t take the quiz after school, so Miss Thomas allowed her to take the quiz home, provided she didn’t use a graphing calculator. Allowing the child the time and space and freedom of working at home made all the difference in the world. Margot resubmitted the quiz and got a perfect score— the only child in class to do so. “Maybe I should just take all my quizzes at home,” said Margot. Miss Thomas thought about this and said, “Well, I need you to take all the quizzes in class, but if you want to retake them at home, that would be alright.”

As the year progressed, Miss Thomas slowly realized that Margot was simply a student who needed many reminders. She forget to tuck in her shirt, forgot to bring forms back signed, forgot to bring money for order lunch. Many of the other teachers interpreted her forgetfulness as a spiritual problem, but Miss Thomas had confidence that the child just needed a little kindness, a little sweetness, and that she would eventually come around. After all, there was the saying about flies, honey, and vinegar. And so Miss Thomas gently corrected Margot when she was caught looking at her phone during class, wearing a skirt that was four inches short of the dress code, and posting pictures of herself flipping off a mirror on Instagram. “If you come down hard on a student,” Miss Thomas explained to her mother on one of their weekend calls, “the student just won’t trust you. The student will see you as the enemy. Students need grace just like teachers need grace, especially first year teachers.”

When the first semester ended, Margot received an A in math and an F in every other subject. Mr. Roberts, the school principal, asked to have a meeting with Miss Thomas.

“This child is failing every other class she takes,” said Mr. Roberts.

“Yes…Well…” said Miss Thomas, blushing and thinking of how to explain the situation.

“What’s your secret?” he asked.

Miss Thomas looked up suddenly and said, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

Mr. Roberts nodded thoughtfully.

“You and Margot have a connection, then?”

“Definitely,” said Miss Thomas.

“That’s wonderful. All the other teachers say Margot is one of the least cooperative, least obedient students they have seen in years.”

Miss Thomas shook her head and said, “People just need a little grace.”

“The other teachers have noticed that Margot is a natural leader among her peers and that she has a tendency of dragging other students into her own questionable habits. Do you see any of that going on?”

Miss Thomas said, “We need to show Margot how to use her talents as a leader for good, not penalize her for being a natural born leader.”

So Margot stayed on and continued to get good scores in math. Mr. Roberts told the other teachers about Miss Thomas’s success with Margot and said they needed to follow Miss Thomas’s example, to give Margot a little room, to not be so hard on her. By the end of the third quarter, Margot had an A in math and a C in all her other subjects, which Mr. Roberts took for a good sign.  

During the fourth quarter, Margot sold a broken CBD vape pen to another 8th grade student for forty dollars, that student became angry when the vape pen wouldn’t work, reported the scam to the dean of students, and a meeting was called with Margot and her parents. Margot’s parents announced they were unhappy with the school and would not be returning the following year, which was a relief to everyone, including Miss Thomas, who had grown to despise Margot.  

“Margot hasn’t learned anything this year,” her father said angrily.

“What do you mean?” asked Mr. Roberts.

“A few nights ago, ‘Geometry’ was a category on Jeopardy! The girl couldn’t answer the simplest, most basic questions about shapes. She confused a right triangle for a rhombus. I quizzed her for an hour after the show was over. She knows nothing about geometry but somehow she’s been getting A’s in the subject all year. I don’t know what I’m paying you people for.”

Honey. On the second day of class, Margot forgot her math book, so her teacher said, “You owe me ten minutes of your lunch break today.”

Later that evening, the teacher got an email from Margot’s father which began, “Have you read Shepherding a Child’s Heart? What you did today to Margot was punitive, not restorative,” and so forth.

The teacher did not reply to the email.

Margot did not forget her math book again.

Joshua Gibbs

Joshua Gibbs

Joshua Gibbs teaches online classes at GibbsClassical.com. He is the author of How To Be UnluckySomething They Will Not Forget, and Blasphemers. His wife is generous and his children are funny.

The opinions and arguments of our contributing writers do not necessarily reflect those of the Institute or its leadership.

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