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 noticed that he did not play well with the other children, that his clothes were messy, and that he constantly needed a bath. In addition, Teddy could be unpleasant. It got to the point where Mrs. Thompson would actually take delight in marking his papers with a broad red pen, making bold s's and then putting a big "F" at the top of his papers.
At the school where Mrs. Thompson taught, she was required to review each child's past records and she put Teddy's off until last. However, when she reviewed his file, she was in for a surprise.
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 is a joy to be around."
His second grade teacher wrote, "Teddy is an excellent student and well liked by his classmates, but he is troubled because his mother has a terminal illness and 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, and his home life will soon affect him if some 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Teddy's fourth grade teacher wrote, "Teddy is withdrawn and doesn't show much interest in school.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 sleeps in class."
By now, Mrs. Thompson realized the problem and she was ashamed of herself. She felt even worse when her students brought her Christmas presents, wrapped in beautiful ribbons and bright paper, except for Teddy's. His present was clumsily wrapped in the heavy, brown paper that he got from a grocery bag. Mrs. Thompson took pains to open it in the middle of the other presents. Some of the children started to laugh when she found a rhinestone bracelet with some of the stones missing, and a bottle that was one-quarter full of perfume. But she stifled the children's laughter when she exclaimed how pretty the bracelet was, putting it on, and dabbing some of the perfume on her wrist. Teddy Stoddard stayed after school that day just long enough to say, "Mrs. Thompson, today you smelled just like my Mom used to."
After the children left, she cried for at least an hour. On that very day, she quit teaching reading, writing and arithmetic. Instead, she began to teach children. Mrs. Thompson paid particular attention to Teddy. As she worked with him, his mind seemed to come alive. The more she encouraged him, the faster he responded. By the end of the year, Teddy had become one of the smartest children in the class and, despite her lie that she would love all the children the same, Teddy became one of her "teacher's pets."
A year later, she found a note under her door, from Teddy, telling her that she was the best teacher he ever had in his whole life.
Six years went by before she got another note from Teddy. He then wrote that he had finished high school, third in his class, and she was still the best teacher he ever had in life.
Four years after that, she got another letter, saying that while things had been tough at times, he'd stayed in school, had stuck with it, and would soon graduate from college with the highest of honours. He assured Mrs. Thompson that she was still the best and favorite teacher he had ever had in his whole life.
Then four more years passed and yet another letter came. This time he explained that after he got his Bachelor's degree, he decided to go a little further. The letter explained that she was still the best and favorite teacher he ever had. But now his name was a little longer. The letter was signed Theodore F. Stoddard, MD.
The story does not end there. You see, there was yet another letter that spring. Teddy said he had met this girl and was going to be married. He explained that his father had died a couple of years ago and he was wondering if Mrs. Thompson might agree to sit at the wedding in the place that was usually reserved for the mother of the groom. Of course, Mrs. Thompson did. She wore that bracelet, the one with several rhinestones missing. Moreover, she made sure she was wearing the perfume that Teddy remembered his mother wearing on their last Christmas together.
They hugged each other, and Dr. Stoddard whispered in Mrs. Thompson's ear, "'Thank you, Mrs. Thompson, for believing in me. Thank you so much for making me feel important and showing me that I could make a difference."
Mrs. Thompson, with tears in her eyes, whispered back, "Teddy, you have it all wrong. You were the one who taught me that I could make a difference. I didn't know how to teach until I met you."The end of the e-mail claimed that Dr. Teddy Stoddard is the doctor at Iowa Methodist in Des Moines that has the Stoddard Cancer Wing. I did a little research, and, according to Snopes, this story is a complete work of fiction. In fact, also according to Snopes, it was originally written in 1974 by an Elizabeth Ballard, and was printed in a Baptist magazine. Click here to read Snopes' full account of this story.
But the fact that this story is a work of fiction does not make it any less thought-provoking. Even in my short career as a teacher so far, I can think of several students I've taught already who match Teddy's hygiene, friend-situation, and/or home life.
It is so important to remember that we don't know as much about our students as we think we do. It is also so important to remember that we must treat every student as if they are our favorite student; the most difficult, friendless, and smelly of the bunch need our love more than anyone else does!
As a teacher, your influence can last a lifetime. Having YOU as a teacher for just one short school year can change a student's entire life.
Furthermore, did you notice the part I put in bold print up there? "On that very day, she quit teaching reading, writing and arithmetic. Instead, she began to teach children." How many times do we get caught up in the standards, in the tests, and in the politics of teaching? How many times do we forget that we're not teaching information; we're teaching students? I guess those two sentences resonated deeply within me because they are part of my teaching philosophy. I feel so strongly about remembering that, at the end of the day, we're teaching humans with feelings and rights. Although the government feels that our teaching of the standards or teaching to the tests is the most important, I disagree. I think teaching social skills, teaching life skills, and building relationships are some of the most important things we can do as teachers...even if none of our admin seems to notice.
I know I'm probably preaching to the choir here. If you are reading this blog and researching methods and products to incorporate into your classroom that make material more relevant and lessons more exciting, then you probably already care about your students more than they will ever know.
I'll end this post with this: Thank you, fellow educators, for what you do. Your/Our career is, in my opinion, one of the most important on the planet. When people ask me what I "do," I am proud to say that I am a teacher.