Several years ago there was an elementary teacher named Mrs. Thompson who greeted her fifth grade class on the first day of school. Seated 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. And Teddy could be unpleasant. In the passing days her frustration with Teddy grew to the point that she actually took delight in marking his papers with a broad red pen and then putting a big “F” at the top of his papers.
The school where she taught required the teachers to review each child’s past records. She put Teddy’s off until last. However, when she reviewed his file, she was in for a surprise. At first Teddy’s teachers gave him a glowing report, but things got progressively worse. Teddy’s mother was seriously ill and finally died when he was in the third grade. His fourth grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is withdrawn and doesn’t show much interest in school. He doesn’t have many friends and 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 store. 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.
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. Teddy went on to graduate from high school, third in his class. Four years later he graduated from college with the highest of honors. He continued his schooling until he received a medical degree. Through the years he kept in touch with Mrs. Thompson assuring her that she was the best teacher he ever had.
One spring Mrs. Thompson received a letter from Teddy saying that he had met this girl and they were 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 in the place at the wedding that was usually reserved for the mother of the groom. Of course, Mrs. Thompson did. And guess what? She wore that bracelet, the one with several rhinestones missing. And 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.” Are you making a difference in someone else’s life?