The Teacher

by Elizabeth Silance Ballard

This story first appeared in the March 1976 issue of Home Life magazine.

Jean Thompson stood in front of her fifth-grade class on that first day of school in the Fall and told the children a lie.

Like most teachers, she looked at her pupils, saying she loved each
of them the same, that she
would treat them all alike. But that was impossible for
there in front of her, slumped in his third
row seat, was a little boy named Teddy Stoddard.

Mrs. Thompson had watched Teddy the year before and noticed he didn’t
play well with the other
children, that his clothes were unkempt and that he constantly
needed a bath. And Teddy was
unpleasant. It got to the point during the first few months that
she would actually take delight in
marking his papers with a broad red pen, making bold X’s and then
highlighting the “F” at the top
of the paper.

Teddy was a sullen little boy, no one else seemed to enjoy him
either. At the school where
Mrs. Thompson taught, she was required to review each child’s
records and delayed Teddy’s until
last. She opened his file, and found a surprise.

first-grade teacher had written, and I quote, “Teddy is a
bright, inquisitive child with a ready
laugh. He does his work neatly and has good manners. He is a joy
to be around.”

second-grade teacher had penned, “Teddy is an excellent student,
well-liked by all his classmates, but he is troubled because his
mother has a terminal illness and life at home must be
a struggle.”

third-grade teacher had noted, “Teddy continues to work hard
but 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.”

fourth-grade teacher had commented, “Teddy is withdrawn and
doesn’t show much interest
in school. He doesn’t have many friends and often falls asleep
in class. He is tardy and could
become a more serious problem.”

now Mrs. Thompson realized the extent of the problem, but Christmas
was coming fast. It
was all she could do, with the school play and all, until the
day before the holidays began and she
was suddenly forced to focus again on Teddy Stoddard.

children brought her presents, all in beautiful ribbon and bright
paper, except Teddy’s, which
was clumsily wrapped in the heavy, brown paper of a scissored
grocery bag.

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 cologne. She stifled the
children’s laughter as she exclaimed
how pretty the bracelet was, putting it on, and dabbing some of
the perfume behind her

Stoddard stayed behind after class just long enough to say, “Mrs.
Thompson, today you
smelled just like my mom used to.”

the children left, she cried for at least an hour. On that very
day, she quit teaching Reading, Writing, and Speaking. Instead,
she began to teach Children. Jean Thompson paid very particular
attention to one they all called “Teddy.” As she worked
with him, his mind seemed to come alive. The more she encouraged
him, the faster he responded. On the days when there would
be an important test, Mrs. Thompson would remember that cologne.

the end of the year he had become one of the highest achieving
children in the class and, well,
he had also somewhat become, the “pet” of that teacher
who had once vowed to love all of her
children exactly the same.

year later, she found a note under her door from Teddy, telling
her that of all the teachers he’d
had in elementary school, she was his favorite.

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 his favorite teacher
of all time.

Four years later, she got another letter, saying that while things
had been tough at times, he’d
stayed in school, had stuck with it, and would graduate from college
with the highest of honors.He
assured Mrs. Thompson she was still his favorite teacher.

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 his favorite
teacher but that now, his name was a little longer. The letter
was signed, Theodore F. Stoddard,

story doesn’t end there. For there was yet another letter that
spring. Teddy said he’d met this girl and was 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 in the pew usually reserved for the mother
of the groom.

on that special day, Jean Thompson wore that bracelet, the one
with the rhinestones missing.
And on that special day, Jean Thompson smelled the way Teddy remembered
his mother smelling on their last Christmas together.

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. She said,
“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.”