A Teacher’s Story – #1

When I was a new teacher I stumbled across this wonderful story.  I still have my well-worn hard copy, which I read from time to time.  It never gets old, it fills me up. I’ve read that it may not be completely true, but that doesn’t matter.  The point is, you never know when you may touch the life of someone else.  If you don’t know this story, you are in for a treat.  Stay till the end.  We all need a positive, feel-good story.

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 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 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 fat “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 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 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Teddy’s fourth grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is withdrawn and doesn’t show much interest in school.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 honors.  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 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.”

(For you that don’t know, Teddy Stoddard is the Dr. at Iowa Methodist in Des Moines that has the Stoddard Cancer Wing).

Stay tuned for Teacher Story – #2.


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
This entry was posted in behavior, Death and dying, Early Education, Expressing words and feelings, Giving thanks, Inspiration, joy, Kindness, Love, self esteem, teaching and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

78 Responses to A Teacher’s Story – #1

  1. Ritu says:

    A wonderful tale I’ve read before, about the difference a compassionate teacher can make 💜

  2. Opher says:

    That’s why we teach!! We have the power to change lives. Brought tears to my eyes Jennie.

  3. beetleypete says:

    Such a lovely story. I can see how it can inspire teachers to look into the story behind each child before making judgements.
    Best wishes, Pet.

  4. beth says:

    such an incredibly beautiful story

  5. quiall says:

    That story should be read to Student Teachers cuz that is how great Teachers teach! (did you know that the story is in your post twice?)

  6. Tara says:

    I hadn’t read this story before today and by the time I got to MD, I was in tears. Thank you so much for sharing – what a lovely, thought-provoking story.

  7. I’m so glad I had tissue nearby! What a wonderful and inspiring story. I’m still weepy!

  8. Thank you, Jennie (tears:) I’ve read this story before but had forgotten about it. I love this, and all teachers should read it. I remember how challenging some days can be in that profession! Love your choice of photo here, as Norman Rockwell is also one of my favorites!

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  10. Beautiful story, Jennie. Thank you.

  11. petespringerauthor says:

    I’ve read this story at least a half dozen times in my life, and it moves me each time. There are students in our classes that we immediately click with and know that we’re impacting. However, there are also students who we do not realize that we are reaching because they may not show outward emotion toward us. I’m thinking of a specific student right now who I never had any idea I was reaching. He came back years later as a young adult and told me that I had helped him during a rough time. He had some difficult family issues that I did not know about. He said that school was the only stable thing in his life at that time. He kept all of that inside at the time, and I had no idea.

    • Jennie says:

      When you find out years later that you made an impact and helped a child, it is the best validation to continue teaching and reaching out to students. Thank you for telling your story, Pete. In light of many teachers feeling disconnected or a bit gloomy, this post felt like a much needed boost and reminder. Like you, I have read it many times and it always moves me. I think every new teacher should read it. Required reading.

      The next two teacher stories I post may not be as familiar, but to me they are just as powerful. Best to you, Pete.

  12. I read this story in the book, Chicken Soup for the Teacher’s Soul not long ago. I didn’t look in the back to see where the story had come from and now I’m sorry I gave away that book. I think I’ve read it somewhere else as well. It makes my eyes water every time. Even this time. A reminder that it’s not subjects being taught, it’s children. Thanks for sharing it again.

    • Jennie says:

      I always get choked up reading this story. I light of the current teaching situation across the country, it seemed like a welcome blanket of reading, especially for teachers. I don’t have that particular Chicken Soup book, but I should! My school had a guest presenter many years ago who read this aloud to the staff. Wow! The ending is so powerful. Yes, teach the children, not the subject. There are more stories I will be sharing. Best to you, Marlene. 🙂

  13. jilldennison says:

    True or not true, this is a beautiful and inspiring story, reminding us to look beneath the surface of people. It brought a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye. Thank you, Jennie.

  14. TanGental says:

    I love the line about stopping teaching subjects are starting teaching children…

  15. Norah says:

    That is a beautiful story, Jennie. We really must not make judgements based on the outside, but see through, and help reveal, the beauty within. It is there within each of us. Sometimes we just need to rub a little harder.

  16. frenchc1955 says:

    Jennie, thank you so much. This story is beautiful, engaging, and needed! Again, thank you!

  17. frenchc1955 says:

    Reblogged this on charles french words reading and writing and commented:
    Here is another wonderful story about teaching from the extraordinary teacher, Jennie!

  18. Sarah says:

    Aww – Jennie, that’s such a wonderful and touching story. I so miss the kids from my pottery class and will probably not see them again because many will change school after the summer holidays. How’s work for you these days?

  19. sjhigbee says:

    What a wonderful, inspirational story – thank you for sharing, Jennie:))

  20. It’s a beautiful story, Jennie! The little boy is one each of us has encountered at some point in our lives. It’s that one person who reaches out to him who can make a vast difference. 💕

  21. What a truly remarkable story, Jennie.It really has brightened my day.

  22. srbottch says:

    Wonderful story. I’d write more, but I have something in my eye…

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  24. dgkaye says:

    Just a beautiful story Jennie. ❤

  25. Ohhh! Jennie!! What a treasure. I know your copy is worn out, loving reads get like that. This story is a precious secret. It should be shared and framed as an awarded recognition, especially in the a principal an counseling offices! Big hearts and hugs for you!!❤️🌺❤️🌺❤️

  26. Thank you for the wonderful story, Jennie! Sorry, i was in underground, the last days. Lol
    However, yone has to be teacher with heart and soul to do a good job. You are a wonderful role model for this too. Michael

  27. Pingback: A Teacher’s Story – #1 ~ Jennie Fitzkee | Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

  28. Yes, I have read this one and was glad to read it again today.
    “On that very day, she quit teaching reading, writing and arithmetic. Instead she began to teach children.”
    And to learn from them.
    Good stuff. Thanks.

  29. The Reynolds' Rap says:

    Beautiful 💚

  30. Léa says:

    Jennie, we shall rate this with two boxes of tissue. Unfortunately, I hid in the back of the room as I didn’t have Teddy’s courage. Many years later, I found a teacher much like you. At 90 he is still at it. We are the fortunate ones to find such teachers. Thank you.

  31. Consarnit, I’m crying, because I’ve seen this happen with other schools…and with my own kids. When a teacher truly connects with a child, THAT makes all the difference for the rest of that child’s educational life. Yet another reason the school closures–and uncertain futures–are nothing short of tragic.

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