Mrs. Thompson stood in front of her fifth grade class on the first day of school and told a lie, a big lie. As she welcomed the students, she said that she would treat them all the same. But that was not true because there was one student she would not treat the same – his name was Teddy Stoddard.
The school district hired Ms. Thompson the year before and she couldn’t help but notice Teddy last year. He was a known problem child with a lousy academic record. He didn’t play well with others; his clothes were a mess; he always looked like he needed a bath, and he had a bad attitude.
Consequently, Mrs. Thompson delighted in marking Teddy’s papers with a broad red pen and placing big bold ‘X’s on all his wrong answers. She loved putting a large ‘F’ at the top of his papers so other students could see his grade when she handed them out.
School policy required that each teacher review the records of their students during the first week of December. Mrs. Thompson held Teddy’s file off until last. When she finally sat down to review his file, she was taken aback.
Teddy’s first grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is a bright child who does neat work and has excellent classroom manners. He is a joy to have in my class – I will miss him next year.”
His second grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is an above average student who is well liked by his classmates. He has been having trouble lately because of his mother’s illness, and life at home has really been a struggle for him.”
His third grade teacher wrote, “His mother’s recent death has been very hard on Teddy. He tries hard to do his best, but his father doesn’t show much interest and his home life is negatively affecting him.”
Teddy’s fourth grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is a withdrawn child who doesn’t show much interest in school. He has few friends, often comes to class unprepared, and is frequently disruptive.”
Mrs. Thompson was now ashamed of her behavior. She felt even worse a few weeks later when her students brought in their Christmas presents for her. All were wrapped in holiday paper and tied with ribbons except for one. Teddy’s was clumsily wrapped in brown paper from an old grocery bag with no ribbon. Mrs. Thompson opened Teddy’s present first.
Some children laughed when they saw a rhinestone bracelet with several stones missing and an old bottle of perfume only 1/4 full; but Mrs. Thompson quickly stifled their laughter by commenting on how beautiful the bracelet was as she put in on. She then dabbed some perfume on each wrist, inhaled deeply and said it smells wonderful.
Before he left class that afternoon, Teddy walked up to Mrs. Thompson’s desk, slowly leaned in and said, “I just want you to know you smell just like my Mom use to.” Then he ran out of the room. When all the other students left, Mrs. Thompson cried at her desk. That was the day she vowed to quit teaching. Never again would she teach reading, writing or arithmetic, instead she would start teaching children.
She began to pay attention to Teddy. As she worked with him, his mind came alive. The more she encouraged him, the faster he responded. By the end of the school year, Teddy was one of the brightest students in her class. Despite “her lie to treat all students the same,” it was obvious Teddy was her pet. The following year, Teddy transferred to middle school and Mrs. Thompson never saw him again.
Towards the end of the next school year, Mrs. Thompson found a note under her door. It was a note from Teddy telling her that she was still the best teacher he ever had in his whole life.
Seven years passed before she received another note. This time Teddy wrote he had just finished high school – third in his class – and that he would be going to college and that, by the way Mrs. Thompson, you are still the best teacher I ever had in my whole life.
Four more years went by when a letter from Teddy arrived explaining he had graduated from college and was planning on going to medical school in the fall and, by the way Mrs. Thompson, you are still the best teacher I ever had.
Several years passed before another letter arrived. In this letter, Teddy stated he met a woman and they would be getting married in June. He explained that his father died a few years earlier and he was wondering if she, Mrs. Thompson, would agree to sit in the place of honor reserved for the groom’s parents at the head table. This letter was signed Theodore J. Stoddard M.D.
Of course Mrs. Thomson agreed. She arrived at the plush wedding ceremony wearing an old rhinestone bracelet with several rhinestones missing and carried a scent of a perfume that Teddy once said reminded him of his mother. Dr. Stoddard came forward and hugged her.
As he inhaled the fragrance of her perfume, he whispered in her ear, “Thank you Mrs. Thompson for making me feel important and thank you for making a difference in my life.” Mrs. Thompson, with tears in her eyes, whispered back, “No Teddy you have it wrong. I need to thank you. You taught me. You taught me I could make a difference.”