The quality of our nation’s teachers is more basic to excellence in education than even textbooks and curricula though the latter two are also extremely important. A caring teacher makes all the difference.
My children had many such teachers in the Boulder Valley School District as do students today. Instead of telling these stories here, however, I want to share “The Teddy Story” by Elizabeth Silance Ballard, the same story Wayne Boss, first counselor in the stake presidency and University of Colorado Leeds School of Business professor, told at the recent Boulder Colorado Stake’s “Most Inspirational Teacher” Awards Night. Though the piece is fiction, this story is relevant as we grapple with budget constraints and work to improve educaton. Because of the story’s length, I tell it here with a mix of the author’s words and my own.
Ballard wrote that as Mrs. Thompson stood in front of her fifth grade class on the first day of school, she “told the children a lie. Like most teachers, she looked at her students and said that she loved them all the same. But that was impossible, because there on 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 didn’t play well with the other children, that his clothes were messy, and that he constantly needed a bath. Teddy could be unpleasant.”
At first, Mrs. Thompson took some delight in giving Teddy’s papers poor marks, Then, she read his record, something she was required to do. His first grade teacher wrote Teddy was “a bright child with a ready laugh. He does his work neatly, and he has good manners. He’s a joy to be around.”
In second grade, Teddy was well-liked and an excellent student. By fourth grade his mother’s terminal illness and death had taken its toll. His fourth grade teacher wrote, “Teddy’s withdrawn and doesn’t show much interest in school. He doesn’t have many friends, and sometimes he even sleeps in class.”
Mrs. Thompson saw the problem and was ashamed. Then, as the students brought Christmas presents to her, Teddy’s gift, a rhinestone bracelet with some stones missing and a mostly empty bottle of perfume, was wrapped in brown paper. The children started to laugh, but Mrs. Thompson put on some perfume and exclaimed how beautiful the bracelet was.
“Teddy Stoddard stayed after school that day just long enough to say, ‘Mrs. Thompson, today you smelled just like 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, and instead she began to teach children.”
As Mrs. Thompson helped Teddy in a caring way, he responded. “By the end of the year, Teddy had become one of the smartest children in the class, and despite her lie, became of her teacher’s pet.”
After leaving her class, Teddy wrote notes to Mrs. Stoddard. “A year later she found a note under the door from Teddy telling her that she was still the best teacher he ever had in his whole life.” He said much the same thing when he finished third in his high school graduating class, with honors from college and again four years after that. He signed that note Theodore F. Stoddard, M.D.
But the teacher’s influence didn’t end there. When Teddy was married, she stood with him since his father had died a few years earlier. And, “she wore that bracelet – the one with the several rhinestones missing” and “the perfume that Teddy remembered his mother wearing on their last Christmas together.”
Mrs. Thompson and Teddy, now Dr. Stoddard, hugged each other. He whispered into her ear, “Thank you so much for making me feel important and showing me that I could make a difference.”
“Mrs. Thompson came with tears in her eyes and 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.”