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Kaye Johnson Collet – West Kearns Elementary

I went to school in Kearns, Utah. I had a most amazing 4th grade teacher. I don’t know if she is still alive, but would love for her and or her family to see what she did to change my life forever. I don’t know if this is the right venue, but I have tried to contact the school and the district, but no one can help. I suppose you get letters like this everyday, but this was a woman who truky altered my life, and I can’t thank her enough.

When I was in the fourth grade, I was in Mrs. Kaye Johnson’s class. The children were bantering me, and no one would sit by me. Tears filled my eyes, and confusion filled my heart. To me, I wasn’t any different than them. I didn’t know that most children’s mothers get up with them in the morning, and when they wet the bed (which I did nearly every night), their mothers would tell them to shower. I hadn’t realized they had eaten breakfast at home, then brushed their teeth and hair. I was blissfully unaware the squalor I lived in would shock even the garbage man. I was a putrid sight to behold. However, I knew deep down I was a daughter of God, and if they would get to know me, they would like me. This day at school was the first day I would learn that I was not only different, but why I was. Sobbing at my desk, I noticed a piece of dried dog defecation on my sock. I couldn’t believe I accidentally put that sock on again! Just as I tried to hide the sock, Mrs. Johnson requested I go out into the hallway, and instructed me not to run away.

The thought to run away had not occurred to me. Her classroom was my sanctuary. My home life was chaotic, I didn’t have any friends, and the students were awful to me, but I knew she loved me. I knew she saw the person no one else could see. I loved going to school. She gave me hope. I wanted to be just like her. I loved her silver hair with just a touch of black underneath. I often imagined her as my grandmother.

Her kind but firm voice was muffled by the door between the classroom and the chair I occupied. I had heard children talk about how strict she was, but I figured they didn’t really know her. No one in our class would believe it for a second. I knew when I grew up; I would emulate her.

The creaking door interrupted my thoughts of admiration. She touched my shoulder, and knelt beside my wooden chair. She asked if I was okay, and if I knew why the class had treated me so crossly. I honestly replied, “NO.” She told me she was going to tell me something that would really hurt my feelings, but she was also going to tell me why they detested me, and how to fix the problem.
I knew she loved me, and agreed to listen.

“You smell really awful.” She choked. “It is hard to be around you, but I would like to teach you how to change it. Are you okay?”

I was demoralized. The odor of my body had never occurred to me. “What can I do about it?” I whispered.

She encouraged me to take my work to the office and sit in the nurse’s room until recess, where she would retrieve me and teach me what I could do. She again made me promise not to leave school property.

When she arrived at recess, I had finished all of the homework she had given me. She took me into the nurses’ room, and showed me how to use soap under my arms, neck and other parts. She also gave me a toothbrush instructing me of its use. She explained to me the importance of cleaning after soiling yourself, both in the day and night. This information was revolutionary!! I was so excited to try out this newsflash of information. She instructed me to arrive to school early the next day, and she would teach me more skills to empower me to overcome my environment. The following morning I woke up before the break of day eager to learn what I could do to change how I was treated. She met me with a fresh change of clothes, and a towel. We went to the nurses room, and I showered, brushed my teeth, and got cleaned up. This continued all week. After a week had passed, she told me I had to learn to clean the laundry by myself, or everything she taught me would be lost. I loved the smell of the clothes she brought each day. I loved not having to worry all day if the socks I chose were already filthy. I felt liberated, and never wanted to go backwards. She had a box containing the clothing I had exchanged with her over the week. She then took me to the school washing machines and taught me how to use them. That night I went into the “lost room” (it was a laundry room, however laundry was not done there. We just picked clothes out of a tremendous pile and wore them to school). I drew a picture of every dial on the washer and dryer. Mrs. Johnson showed me how to use each of them, and for which clothes. I can’t say all of the children treated me differently, but many did. They saw the transformation. I don’t know what Mrs. Johnson told the students while I waited for her in the office. I do know however, she changed my life. She let me see the Savior’s love firsthand. I never felt judged by her. I only felt love. She could have reacted to me like so many other’s seeing that I was indeed “a lost cause.” But instead she loved the unlovable. She taught me to brush my teeth and hair, wash my body and clothes….but what she really taught me is life is about giving what you have to other’s and meeting their needs from where they are. Sometimes that means saying hard things, but also reaching out with love when you do. My home life wasn’t any easier, and only got more unbearable. She however made it possible to have a safe haven at school. She gave me an outlet to live, and I will be eternally grateful.

–Shannon Shuman