On the first day of school, Jean Thompson told her students, “Boys and girls, I love you all the same.” Teachers lie. Little Teddy Stollard was a boy Jean Thompson did not like. He slouched in his chair, didn’t pay attention, his mouth hung open in a stupor, his eyes were always unfocused, his clothes were mussed, his hair unkempt, and he smelled. He was an unattractive boy and Jean Thompson didn’t like him. Teachers have records. And Jean Thompson had Teddy’s.
First grade: “Teddy’s a good boy. He shows promise in his work and attitude. But he has a poor home situation.”
Second grade: “Teddy is a good boy. He does what he is told. But he is too serious. His mother is terminally ill.”
Third grade: “Teddy is falling behind in his work; he needs help. His mother died this year. His father shows no interest.”
Fourth grade: “Teddy is in deep waters; he is in need of psychiatric help. He is totally withdrawn.”
Christmas came, and the boys and girls brought their presents and piled them on her desk. They were all in brightly colored paper except for Teddy’s. His was wrapped in brown paper and held together with scotch tape. And on it, scribbled in crayon, were the words, “For Miss Thompson from Teddy.” She tore open the brown paper and out fell a rhinestone bracelet with most of the stones missing and a bottle of cheap perfume that was almost empty. When the other boys and girls began to giggle she had enough sense to put some of the perfume on her wrist, put on the bracelet, hold her wrist up to the children and say, “Doesn’t it smell lovely? Isn’t the bracelet pretty?” And taking their cue from the teacher, they all agreed.
At the end of the day, when all the children had left, Teddy lingered, came over to her desk and said, “Miss Thompson, all day long, you smelled just like my mother. And her bracelet, that’s her bracelet, it looks real nice on you, too. I’m really glad you like my presents.” And when he left, she got down on her knees and buried her head in her chair and she begged God to forgive her.
The next day when the children came, she was a different teacher. She was a teacher with a heart. And she cared for all the children, but especially those who needed help. Especially Teddy. She tutored him and put herself out for him. By the end of the year, Teddy had caught up with a lot of the children and was even ahead of some.
Several years later, Jean Thompson got this note:
Dear Miss Thompson: I’m graduating and I’m second in my high school class. I wanted you to be the first to know. Love, Teddy.
Four years later she got another note: Dear Miss Thompson: I wanted you to be the first to know. The university has not been easy, but I like it. Love, Teddy Stollard.
Four years later, there was another note: Dear Miss Thompson: As of today, I am Theodore J. Stollard, M.D. How about that? I wanted you to be the first to know. I’m going to be married in July. I want you to come and sit where my mother would have sat, because you’re the only family I have. Dad died last year.
And she went and she sat where his mother should have sat, because she deserved to be there.