Recent Changes - Search:

Miss Nelson is Missing!

By Harry Allard and James Marshall


A classroom of unruly students treat their caring and lovely teacher with complete disrespect. They throw spitballs during story-time and refuse to sit in their seats during math. They take advantage of their teacher's good nature until she disappears and they are faced with a vile substitute. Near her wits' end, Miss Nelson doesn't come to school one day. Instead, the kids have a vile substitute--the nasty Viola Swamp--who loads the boys and girls with homework and never gives them a story hour. By the time Miss Nelson finally returns, the children are so grateful they behave well. But now Viola Swamp is missing...

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

by Taryn Hargrove

Miss Nelson is Missing discusses many philosophical themes which include identity, repect, fear, power, and deception. The question sets encourage children to explore: what is respect and who deserves respect; what is fear and what are we afraid of; what is it to have power and do people need power; and whether it is ok to deceive.

In the story, the teacher, Miss Nelson, has trouble controlling her classroom. To get the children to behave she disguises herself and comes in as a strict substitute teacher. The students do not misbehave in the presence of the substitute. When Miss Nelson returns back to the classroom the children are so thankful for having her back and they behave in a positive manner.

Respect is one of the first themes mentioned in the story. Respect is of great importance in everyday life. As children we are taught to respect teachers, parents, elders, school rules, family and cultural traditions, and other people's feelings and rights. It is hard to specify what respect is. These questions help students to explore what is involved in respecting others and oneself. The discussion will bring up the issue of whether we respect someone because of their title or position. Do we respect people like our teachers because we are told to even if how we were brought up does not agree with their actions or beliefs? These questions also ask if showing respect just means doing the appropriate action or if intent must be known to determine if an action is respectful (this ties into the fear question). They also bring up the issue if respect is a right or an honor.

Fear is another theme in the story. The children are encouraged to discuss what they are afraid of and why, and also how they are able to overcome that fear. Discussing the theme of fear among children may lead to an interesting conversation about whether one action done out of fear is different than doing the same action out of respect. Do children respect who they are told to respect because they are afraid of what will happen if they are disrespectful? Iis it still respect if the behavior is out of fear? The discussion will also include whether or not we can tell if someone is afraid by their appearance and actions. Some children may say that if you are afraid it will always show on the outside and some may say that you can be afraid in the inside and not show it. Some may also say that because you have a reaction to an event your body reacts to the event and causes you to be afraid. This may lead to whether our physical response causes fear or if fear causes our physical response. Is it is better to show that you are afraid or not to show that you are afraid? If you don't show that you are afraid are you still afraid? Is it ok to use one's fear to achieve a good end? Does the end justify the means?

Power is a theme mentioned in the story. Miss Nelson loses control of her class and, therefore, does not have any power over the children. The questions will engage the children in a discussion concerning the meaning of power, whether we need power, and how do you gain and lose power. Power can be given to us and can also be taken away. This topic also asks if we have control over any power that we have and if it is ever better to let others have power over you. Children are always asked to give the power they have to grown ups and it is important to ask them why that is happening. Can power ever be achieved if those that are under it truly don't want it? Do we have power because we are respected? Discussing these questions will give the students some understanding of what it is to have power.

The last two themes of identity and deception somewhat tie together in the story. Miss Nelson changes her identity and deceives the children. Identity also ties in with the previous themes of respect and power. Do people change who they are to gain acceptance, respect, and power? Can we change our identity and be the same person or are we different? What defines our identity? Are there essential parts that makes us who we are? If you change everything about yourself are you the same or a new person?

Identity ties into deception because Miss Nelson tricks her children into believing something. Is this the same as deception? For example, what if a friend lied to you for your own good? Is it ever ok to not tell the truth or trick someone? Is a trick the same as lying?

Questions for Philosophical Discussion


The students in Miss Nelson's class did not respect her.

  1. How did the students act towards Ms. Swamp?
  2. What is it to have respect for someone?
  3. How do you know someone deserves respect?
  4. Can you respect yourself?
  5. Does obedience for an elder show respect?
  6. What types of people are usually disrespected?
  7. What actions display respect?
  8. Why did the students respect Ms. Swamp and not Ms. Nelson?


The children in Miss Nelson's class feared Ms. Swamp.

  1. Did the children respect Ms. Swamp because they were afraid of her?
  2. Why did Ms. Nelson's class fear Ms. Swamp?
  3. Would you be afraid of Ms. Swamp?
  4. Is fear different from respect?
  5. Are you more obedient to someone you fear?
  6. What are we afraid of?
  7. How do you know someone is afraid?
  8. Can someone be afraid and not show any signs of being afraid?
  9. Is it better to show that you are afraid or not to show that you are afraid?


Ms. Nelson has very little power over her students.

  1. Did Miss Nelson loose power over the class because the children did not fear her?
  2. What is it to have power?
  3. Do people need power?
  4. If someone has power, do you need to respect them?
  5. If you have power, does that mean you are respected?
  6. Do we need people to have power?
  7. How do you gain power?
  8. How do you lose power?
  9. How does it feel to be powerless?
  10. How does it feel to be powerful?


Ms. Nelson changes her identity and comes in as Ms. Swamp.

  1. Would you change who you are to gain more acceptance or respect?
  2. Is Ms. Nelson still the same person after she changes her identity?
  3. Does someone's identity define who they are?
  4. What defines a person?
  5. What is your identity?
  6. Is someone the same person if they alter/change their identity?


  1. Does Ms. Nelson deceive her class by changing her identity?
  2. Is it okay to lie?
  3. Is it okay to lie if it is for a good cause?
  4. Is tricking someone into believing something the same as lying?
  5. How would you feel if your best friend lied to you but it was for your own good?

This book module deals with ethics, metaphysics, and epistemology. You can buy this book on Amazon.

Creative Commons License This website was developed with the assistance of the Squire Family Foundation.