Have you ever tried to make a difference in the life of another person? Is it possible for one person to change the results in the life of another? The following story tells us that we can make a difference to others. A second version of the story, possibly the original, can be found here.
As she stood in front of her fifth 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 X’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, well- liked by his classmates, but he is troubled because his mother has a terminal illness and life ate 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Teddy’s fourth grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is withdrawn and doesn’t show much interest in school.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 form 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 still 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 year 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 honors. He assured Mrs. Thompson that she was still the best and favorite teacher he had ever had in his whole life.
The 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. And guess what? 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. 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.”
There was a note at the bottom of the story explaining that Teddy Stoddard is a doctor at Iowa Methodist Hospital in Des Moines that has the Stoddard Cancer Wing.
I really like this story, and I wanted to share it on my blog; however, I desired to know if the story was really true. According to Snopes, it is a work of fiction written by Elizabeth Silance Ballard in 1974 and published in HomeLife, a Baptist magazine for families. The author is now known as Elizabeth Ungar. The original title of the story was “Three Letters from Teddy.” The story is based on a couple of experiences from the author’s life.
According to Snopes, a friend of the author was a substitute Sunday School teacher who receive a gift of cheap perfume and a broken rhinestone bracelet from a grubby little boy and later shared the experience with Ballared/Ungar who combined this story with a personal experience from her own childhood. As a child, the author took a small box of hand-picked pecans to her elementary school teacher. The other children laughed at her gift, but her teacher stopped the derision by announcing that she was baking fruitcakes and needed pecans to finish the task. It was the compassion of her own teacher that led her to write a story about the experience of her friend.
The boy’s name has several variations – Teddy Stoddard, Teddy Stallart, Teddy Stoddart, or Teddy Stallard; the original story has his name as “Teddy Stallard,” a name that was a combination from the author’s name “Ballard” and Stanley, the surname of her grandmother who suggested that she take the pecans to her teacher. There is no Theodore “Teddy” Stoddard at the John Stoddard Cancer Center at Iowa Methodist Medical Center in Des Moines, Iowa. The facility was named for John Stoddard, an engineer and real estate developer who donated money to build the center.
Does the fact that the story is fiction make a difference in your feelings about it? I believe that it carries a powerful message even if it is not a true experience. I believe that we can learn much from this story about how our actions can affect the lives of others.
A teacher in Texas wrote about this story on her blog: “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.”
This teacher and I were both touched by the statement, “On that very day, she quit teaching reading, writing and arithmetic. Instead, she began to teach children.” This is probably the most powerful statement in the entire story! This is one reason why I am so against the Common Core Curriculum for I am afraid that teachers will get so caught up in teaching the standards that they will forget that they are actually teaching children.
It is also one of the reasons why I like the new curriculum for youth in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While using the old curriculum, it was easy to get caught up in teaching the lesson and fail to meet the needs of the class members. With the new curriculum, the teacher presents the topic and lets the Holy Ghost direct the discussion. It no longer matters whether or not we cover the entire subject matter because the youth are getting what they need most at that particular time.
I know that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ expect us to help other people, to be kind to each other, and to love one another. We can be their hands and hearts and show compassion and love for other people. I know that we will be blessed greatly for whatever we can do to help our brothers and sisters on this earth.