Every child needs to belong, to be loved, to be seen as capable, to be respected, and valued. These remain essential emotional needs of every human being.
Both my parents died this last year within six months of each other. My sister kindly and generously gathered together and mailed me two boxes of photos and memorabilia from my parents’ house that I began sorting through yesterday. I found a book of writing that I had gifted my mother.
Here is one of the notes I shared with my mother:
“Mom, thank you for being a ‘Mrs. Thompson’ in so many children’s lives.”
Then in my handwriting, I had written her this story that I had heard shared by Dr. Wayne Dyer.
The Teddy Story
There is a story many years ago of an elementary school teacher. Her name was Mrs. Thompson. As she stood in front of her 5th-grade class on the first day of school she told the children a lie. Like most schoolteachers, she looked at her students and said she loved them all the same. But 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 didn’t play well with the other children, that his clothes were messy, and he constantly needed a bath. Teddy could be unpleasant, and it got to the point where Mrs. Thompson would take delight in marking his papers with a broad red pen putting a big “F” at the top of his papers.
At the school where Mrs. Thompson taught 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, has good manners. He is a joy to be around.” His 2nd-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 3rd-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 Teddy’s 4th-grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is withdrawn and doesn’t show much interest in school. He doesn’t have many friends and sometimes he even sleeps in class.”
By now Mrs. Thompson realized the problem and was ashamed of herself. She felt even worse when her students brought her Christmas packages wrapped in beautiful ribbons and bright paper except for Teddy’s. His present was clumsily wrapped in heavy brown paper that he got from the 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, a quarter full of perfume, but she stifled the children’s laughter when she exclaimed how pretty the bracelet was as she put it on and dabbed some of the perfume on her wrist. Teddy Stoddard stayed after school that day just long enough to say, “Mrs. Thompson, you smelled just like my mom used to!” After the children left, she cried for almost an hour.
On that very day, she quit teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic, and instead she began teaching children. Mrs. Thompson paid particular attention to Teddy as she worked with him and 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 became one of her beloved students. A year later she found a note under the door from Teddy telling her she was the best teacher he had ever had in his life.
Four years after that she got another letter saying that while things had been tough at times, he stayed in school and stuck with it and would soon graduate from college with the highest honors. He assured Mrs. Thompson that she was still the best and most favorite teacher he 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 most favorite teacher he had, but now his name was a little longer. It was signed, “Theodore F. Stoddard, M.D.”
But the story doesn’t 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 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 with several rhinestones missing and she made sure she wore the perfume Teddy remembered his mom wearing on their last Christmas together. They hugged each other and Dr. Stoddard whispered in Mrs. Thompson’s ear, “Thank you so much for making me feel important and showing me that I could make a difference.” Mrs. Thompson came with tears in her eyes and 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 till I met you.”
I know my mother struggled in her interactions with me in countless ways, but I also know she passionately cared about her students in much the same way that Mrs. Thompson did. Being able to see another human being through eyes of compassion and a breadth of understanding remains such an important, essential gift of being a human being, of becoming the love we want to experience in our world.
May you discover the courage to set aside poisonous righteousness about another human being and become curious to understand the behaviors, unspoken commitments, heartbreaks, and sometimes disguised skills or talents of another person. May you know you are valued, loved, respected, capable, and that you matter to our world.