You know how teachers have favorite grade levels?

The ones who teach middle school will tell you they love helping kids work through the uncertainty and challenges that come with being a new teen. The ones in high school enjoy developing the gifts of young people finding their way in the world.

And the teachers who shepherd elementary students? I think they come to work every day for the hugs.

Beth Oien is a second grade teacher at Freedom Elementary in West Fargo. In the spirit of disclosure, let me say that I knew Beth way before she was ever teaching or I was ever writing about kindness. When Beth told me she was entering the classroom, my heart immediately got happy. It was like hearing peanut butter found jelly. Like Shrek won over Fiona. Like grilled cheese got dipped in a bowl of tomato soup. It just fits.

Beth was born to be an elementary school teacher. Every year, she decorates her classroom with inspiring sayings and a special nod to kindness. This year was no exception. In fact, thanks to her mom, she was able to take it up a notch.

Each second-grader in Beth Oien's class in West Fargo got an "I will be your friend" T-shirt to start the schoolyear. Special to The Forum

“I was home in Pelican Rapids, Minn., visiting my mom the weekend before school started. She jokingly asked me what I was going to wear on the first day of school. I laughed and told her I hadn’t gone school shopping for ‘the teacher’ yet, but that I wished I had been able to make ‘I will be your friend’ T-shirts for the children and myself to wear on the first day of school.

“My mom, who has very little material things herself (although she will tell you she has enough), did not hesitate. She quickly got up from her chair, went to her bedroom and brought back enough money to cover shirts for all my new second-graders. My mom has a heart of gold, and has taught me the values of family, friends and paying it forward even when you have very little yourself.

“My students were surprised by her thoughtfulness on Back-to-School night, and agreed that we should all wear our friendship shirts on the first day of school. The response from parents, students, classmates, teachers and even strangers was heartwarming.

"I will be your friend" shirts greeted each second-grader coming back to school with their West Fargo teacher, Beth Oien. Special to The Forum

“One sweet little boy washed his T-shirt and brought it back to school to me the next day. When I told him it was a gift for him to keep from Grandma Sharon and me, he smiled and said, ‘Wow, thank you!’ Then he carefully tucked it back into his backpack.”

I hope every child in the world gets to have someone like Beth as their teacher, because along with learning math, reading and writing, they are going to learn the value of being a good friend and the power of kindness in their world. And really, aren’t those some of the most important lessons of all?

Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND, 58107.