As she stood in front of her 5th grade class, on the very first day of school, she told the children an untruth. Like most teachers, she looked at her students and said that she loved them all the same. However, that was impossible, because there in the front row, slumped in his seat, was a little boy named Teddy Stoddard. Mrs. Thompson had watched Teddy the year before, and had noticed that he did not play well with the other children, that his clothes were messy and that he constantly needed a bath. At the school where Mrs. Thompson taught, teachers were required to review each student’s past records. She put Teddy’s off until last. When she reviewed his file, she was surprised. Teddy’s first grade teacher wrote, ‘Teddy is a bright child with a ready laugh. He does his work neatly and has good manners…he’s a joy to be around.’ His second grade teacher wrote, ‘Teddy is an excellent student, well liked by his classmates, but is troubled because his mother has a terminal illness. Life at home must be a struggle.’ His third grade teacher wrote, ‘His mother’s death has been hard on him. He tries to do his best, but his father doesn’t show much interest. His life will soon be affected if steps aren’t taken.’ Teddy’s fourth grade teacher wrote, ‘Teddy is withdrawn and doesn’t show much interest in school. He doesn’t have many friends, and he sometimes falls asleep in class.’
Mrs. Thompson was ashamed of herself. She felt even worse when her students brought her Christmas presents, wrapped in beautiful ribbons and bright paper, except Teddy’s. His present was clumsily wrapped in the heavy, brown paper of a grocery bag. She opened it before the other presents. Some children started to laugh when she found a rhinestone bracelet with some stones missing, and a one-quarter full bottle of perfume. She exclaimed how pretty the bracelet was as she put it on, and how nice the perfume smelled as she dabbed some on her wrist.
Teddy stayed after school just long enough to say, “Mrs. Thompson, today you smelled just like my Mom used to.” After he left, she cried. Mrs. Thompson quit teaching reading, writing and arithmetic that day. Instead, she began to teach children. She paid particular attention to Teddy. As she worked with him, he seemed to come alive. The more she encouraged him, the better he did. By the end of the year, he was one of the smartest kids in the class, and, despite lying about loving all the children the same, Teddy became her ‘teacher’s pet’. A year later, she found a note under her door from him, telling her she was the best teacher he ever had. Six years went by before she got another note from him. He wrote to say that he had finished high school and she was the best teacher ever.
Four years after that, she got another letter, saying that he’d stayed in school, and would soon graduate with honours. He reaffirmed that she was still the best teacher he had ever had. It was signed, Theodore F. Stoddard, MD. There was another letter that spring, saying that he had met a girl and was getting married. He explained that his father had died a couple of years ago, and he wondered if she might agree to take the mother of the groom’s place at the wedding. She did. She wore the bracelet with several rhinestones missing and she was wearing Teddy’s mother’s perfume, the perfume his mother wore on their last Christmas together. As they hugged each other, Dr. Stoddard whispered in her ear, “Thank you, Mrs. Thompson, for believing in me. You made me feel important and showed me that I could do anything I set my mind to do.” With tears in her eyes, she held his face with her hands, and said, “Oh, dear Teddy, you have it so very wrong. You, son, were the one who taught me. You taught me to see beyond appearances, and by doing so, you taught me how to teach. I didn’t know how to teach until I met you.”