When the second bell rang, everyone got quiet and the teacher turned around and faced us. He said his name was Mr. Browne, and then he started talking about what we would be doing this semester. Mr. Browne had written on the chalkboard in big block letters: P-R-E-C-E-P-T!
"Okay, everybody write this down at the very top of the very first page in your English notebook." As we did what he told us to do, he said: "Okay, so who can tell me what a precept is? Does anyone know?" No one raised their hands.
Mr. Browne smiled, nodded, and turned around to write on the chalkboard again:
PRECEPTS = RULES ABOUT REALLY IMPORTANT THINGS!
"Like a motto?" someone called out.
"Like a motto!" said Mr. Browne, nodding as he continued writing on the board. "Like a famous quote. Any saying or ground rule that can motivate you. Basically, a precept is anything that helps guide us when making decisions about really important things." He wrote all that on the chalkboard and then turned around and faced us. "So, what are some really important things?" he asked us.
A few kids raised their hands, and as he pointed at them, they gave their answers, which he wrote on the chalkboard in really, really sloppy handwriting: RULES. SCHOOLWORK. HOMEWORK.
"What else?" he said as he wrote, not even turning around. "Just call things out!" He wrote everything everyone called out. FAMILY. PARENTS. PETS.
One girl called out: "The environment!"
"Bees!" "Seatbelts!" "Recycling!" "Friends!"
"Okay," said Mr. Browne, writing all those things down. He turned around when he finished writing to face us again. "But no one's named the most important thing of all." We all looked at him, out of ideas. Without saying anything else, he wrote down: WHO WE ARE!
"Who we are," he said, underlining each word as he said it. "Who we are! Us! Right? What kind of people are we? What kind of person are you? Isn't that the most important thing of all? Isn't that the kind of question we should be asking ourselves all the time? "What kind of person am I? Learning who you are is what you're here to do."
"I thought we were here to learn English," Jack cracked, which made everyone laugh.
"Oh yeah, and that, too!" Mr. Browne answered, which I thought was very cool of him. He turned around and wrote in big huge block letters that spread all the way across the chalkboard:
MR. BROWNE'S SEPTEMBER PRECEPT: WHEN GIVEN THE CHOICE BETWEEN BEING RIGHT OR BEING KIND, CHOOSE KIND
Adapted from Wonder, R. J. Palacio, 2012.