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What’s Inside the Mystery Envelope?

Mystery Envelope[Editor’s note: Mr. Foteah is a third-year teacher in an elementary school in Queens. He blogs at From the Desk of Mr. Foteah, where this post originally appeared.]

A few weeks ago, I was struck with some inspiration before the kids arrived one morning, and decided to create a “Mystery Envelope” to add some intrigue to my elementary special education classroom, and to liven up our somewhat stale morning routines. I try to reserve the contents of the Mystery Envelope for the most outstanding performances in kindness and personal improvement.

After the Mystery Envelope’s debut, I hung it near our calendar as a reminder that “You never know what’s inside the Mystery Envelope!” and as a somewhat passive message that good things come to those who earn them.

When it comes to awarding a student with the contents of the envelope, I like to strike when the iron is hot. The iron hadn’t been much hotter than it was the previous day after Tessa’s brilliant display of friendship and compassion toward Donald, who was very upset that his mother did not get to see him perform in our class play. I knew it would be a good opportunity to keep Tessa on a hot streak.

Before the morning routines, I announced that when we finished our word work, we would be able to see inside the Mystery Envelope. I put some speculation to rest immediately by telling them the envelope contained a certificate. The only question now was whose name was on that certificate.

Tessa seemed to know. She said in droll, dismissive voice just loud enough for me to hear: “It’s Richard…again.” I didn’t even acknowledge her.

Halfway through our student-run word work period, I was getting a little antsy. “MYSTERY ENVELOPE, PEOPLE!” I bellowed. The students proceeded to take turns running the class — a little more efficiently — but not without Tessa saying in that droll, dismissive voice just loud enough for me to hear: “It’s Richard…again.” I didn’t even acknowledge her.

Finally, we met the end of the period, and it was time to reveal the contents of the Mystery Envelope. I reminded the students it was a certificate. Excitement built. But not for Tessa.

“It’s Richard…again.”

I didn’t even acknowledge her.

But soon I’d have to.

We had our first chance to talk about the play, and the conversation (intentionally) turned to how Donald was feeling when he discovered no one came to see him. I commended the class for being so supportive of him, and I said there was really one person who stood out as the number one friend. Did anyone know who that might be? The popular consensus was Alvin, who, after the play yesterday, repeated several times in his outside voice that, “My mom didn’t come either and I’m not crying!” I said it wasn’t Alvin, that, while he did a nice job helping Donald out, he was probably the number two. Then I started going student to student, asking them if they knew who I was thinking about. Do you, Donald? No. Do you, Samantha? No. Do you, Dolly? No. Do you, Jasmyn? No.

Tessa was next. I hadn’t looked at her this whole time because I knew I’d give it away.

Do you, Tessa?

Her smile spoke before her words, but when she regained her composure, she said in that same droll voice — with a little more oomph than earlier, and just loud enough for everyone to hear — “It’s me!”

Richard, sitting beside her, opened his arms and drew her in for a hug. The whole class applauded with shock and glee.

There was a certificate with Tessa’s name on it inside the Mystery Envelope. And it represented so much more than good attitude.