by Sharon Jaynes
GOD HAS GIVEN us an incredible treasure—this gift of words. But the gift wasn’t meant to be hoarded or ill used. The gift is to be opened and shared to help others be all that God intended them to be. Miss Thompson, a school teacher who taught fifth grade, saw firsthand how an encouraging word can change the course of a day…the course of a life. Here’s her story:
Three Letters from Teddy Teddy’s letter came today and now that I’ve read it, I will place it in my cedar chest with the other things that are important to my life. “I wanted you to be the first to know.”
I smiled as I read the words he had written, and my heart swelled with a pride that I had no right to feel.
Teddy Stallard. I have not seen Teddy Stallard since he was a student in my fifth-grade class, fifteen years ago. I’m ashamed to say that from the first day he stepped into my classroom, I disliked Teddy.
Teachers try hard not to have favorites in a class, but we try even harder not to show dislike for a child, any child. Nevertheless, every year there are one or two children that one cannot help but be attached to, for teachers are human, and it is human nature to like bright, pretty, intelligent people, whether they are ten years old or twenty-five.
And sometimes, not too often fortunately, there will be one or two students to whom the teacher just can’t seem to relate. I had thought myself quite capable of handling my personal feelings along that line until Teddy walked into my life.
There wasn’t a child I particularly liked that year, but Teddy was most assuredly one I disliked. He was a dirty little boy. Not just occasionally, but all the time.
His hair hung low over his ears, and he actually had to hold it out of his eyes as he wrote his papers in class. (And this was before it was fashionable to do so!)
Too, he had a peculiar odor about him that I could never identify.
Yes, his physical faults were many, but his intellect left a lot to be desired. By the end of the first week I knew he was hopelessly behind the others. Not only was he behind, he was just plain slow!
Any teacher will tell you that it’s more of a pleasure to teach a bright child. It is definitely more rewarding for one’s ego.
But any teacher worth his or her credentials can channel work to the bright child, keeping that child challenged and learning, while the major effort is with the slower ones.
Any teacher can do this. Most teachers do, but I didn’t. Not that year.
In fact, I concentrated on my best students and let the others follow along as best they could.
Ashamed as I am to admit it, I took perverse pleasure in using my red pen; and each time I came to Teddy’s papers, the cross-marks (and they were many) were always a little larger and a little redder than necessary.
“Poor work!” I would write with a flourish.
While I did not actually ridicule the boy, my attitude was obviously quite apparent to the class, for he quickly became the class “goat,” the outcast—the unlovable and the unloved.
He knew I didn’t like him, but he didn’t know why. Nor did I know—then or now—why I felt such an intense dislike for him.
The days rolled by and we made it through the Fall Festival, the Thanksgiving holidays, and I continued marking happily with my red pen. As our Christmas break approached, I knew that Teddy would never catch up in time to be promoted to the sixth-grade level. He would be a repeater.
To justify myself, I went to his cumulative folder from time to time. He had very low grades for the first four years, but no grade failure. How he had made it, I didn’t know.
I closed my mind to the personal remarks:
First Grade: “Teddy shows promise by work and attitude, but he has a poor home situation.”
Second Grade: “Teddy could do better. Mother terminally ill. He receives little help at home.”
Third Grade: “Teddy is a pleasant boy. Helpful, but too serious. Slow learner. Mother passed away end of the year.”
Fourth Grade: “Very slow but well behaved. Father shows no interest.”
Well, they passed him four times, but he will certainly repeat fifth grade! Do him good! I said to myself.
And then the last day before the holidays arrived. Our little tree on the reading table sported paper and popcorn chains. Many gifts were heaped underneath, waiting for the big moment.
Teachers always get several gifts at Christmas, but mine that year seemed bigger and more elaborate than ever. There was not a student who had not brought me one. Each unwrapping brought squeals of delight and the proud giver would receive effusive thank-yous.
His gift wasn’t the last one I picked up. In fact it was in the middle of the pile. Its wrapping was a brown paper bag, and he had colored Christmas trees and red bells all over it. It was stuck together with masking tape. “For Miss Thompson—From Teddy.” The group was completely silent and I felt conspicuous, embarrassed because they all stood watching me unwrap that gift.
As I removed the last bit of masking tape, two items fell to my desk. A gaudy rhinestone bracelet with several stones missing and a small bottle of dime-store cologne—half empty.
I could hear the snickers and whispers, and I wasn’t sure I could look at Teddy.
“Isn’t this lovely?” I asked, placing the bracelet on my wrist. “Teddy, would you help me fasten it?” He smiled shyly as he fixed the clasp, and I held up my wrist for all of them to admire.
There were a few hesitant ooh’s and ahh’s, but, as I dabbed the cologne behind my ears, all the little girls lined up for a dab behind their ears. I continued to open the gifts until I reached the bottom of the pile.
We ate our refreshments until the bell rang. The children filed out with shouts of “See you next year!” and “Merry Christmas!” but Teddy waited at his desk.
When they had all left, he walked toward me clutching his gift and books to his chest. “You smell just like Mom,” he said softly. “Her bracelet looks real pretty on you, too. I’m glad you liked it.”
He left quickly and I locked the door, sat down at my desk and wept, resolving to make up to Teddy what I had deliberately deprived him of—a teacher who cared.
I stayed every afternoon with Teddy from the day class resumed on January 2 until the last day of school. Sometimes we worked together. Sometimes he worked alone while I drew up lesson plans or graded papers.
Slowly but surely he caught up with the rest of the class. Gradually there was a definite upward curve in his grades. He did not have to repeat the fifth grade.
In fact, his final averages were among the highest in the class, and although I knew he would be moving out of the state when school was out, I was not worried for him.
Teddy had reached a level that would stand him in good stead the following year, no matter where he went. He had enjoyed a measure of success, and as we were taught in our education courses: “Success builds success.”
I did not hear from Teddy until several years later when his first letter appeared in my mailbox.
Dear Miss Thompson,
I just wanted you to be the first to know. I will be graduating second in my class on May 25 from E______High School.
Very truly yours, Teddy Stallard
I sent him a card of congratulations and a small package, a pen and pencil set. I wondered what he would do after graduation.
I found out four years later when Teddy’s second letter came.
Dear Miss Thompson,
I was just informed today that I’ll be graduating first in my class. The university has been a little tough but I’ll miss it.
I sent him a good pair of sterling silver monogrammed cuff links and a card, so proud of him I could burst!
And now—today—Teddy’s third letter:
Dear Miss Thompson,
I wanted you to be the first to know. As of today I am Theodore J. Stallard, MD. How about that???!!! I’m going to be married on July 27, and I’m hoping you can come and sit where Mom would sit if she were here. I’ll have no family there as Dad died last year.
Very truly yours, Ted Stallard
I’m not sure what kind of gift one sends to a doctor on completion of medical school. Maybe I’ll just wait and take a wedding gift, but the note can’t wait.
Congratulations! You made it and you did it yourself! In spite of those like me and not because of us, this day has come for you. God bless you. I’ll be at that wedding with bells on!!!
Miss Thompson changed the course of one little boy’s life. She gave Teddy words that built him up when he felt as though life had knocked him down for good. Can’t you hear her now? “Great job, Teddy!” “You can do it!”
She became the wind beneath his wings when he felt as though he had been grounded from flight. And years later, she had a front row seat as she watched him soar into his future.
That is the power of a woman’s words. An incredible gift God has given those created in His very image.
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“Affirming words from Moms and Dads are like light switches. Speak a word of affirmation at the right moment in a child’s life, and it’s like lighting up a whole roomful of possibilities.” – The Power of a Woman’s Words