The original piece appeared in the magazine 'Home Life' in 1976 and was written by Elizabeth Silance Ballard. It was originally called 'Three Letters from Teddy'. It was written using predominantly American terminology so I have adapted it slightly for the UK reader.
The Teacher and Little Teddy Stoddard
Jean Thompson stood in front of her fifth-year class on the very first day of school in the new term and told all of those children another big fat lie. Like most teachers, she looked at her pupils and said that she loved them all the same, that she would treat them all alike.
Now, that was always going to be an impossible claim because right there in front of her, slouched down in his seat on the third row, was a little boy named Teddy Stoddard.
Mrs. Thompson had watched Teddy the year before and had noticed that he didn't play well with the other children, and that his clothes were unkempt and he constantly seemed to need a bath. And, quite frankly, Teddy was generally an unpleasant child.
It got to the point during the first few months that she would actually find herself taking great delight in marking his papers with a big broad red pen, making bold X's and then marking the inevitable F at the top of the paper biggest of all. And because Teddy was such a sullen little boy, nobody else seemed to enjoy him, either.
Now, at the school where Mrs. Thompson taught, she was required to review every child's records once in a while and she found herself putting Teddy's off until last. But when she eventually opened his file, she was in for quite a surprise.
His first-year teacher had written "Teddy is a bright, inquisitive child with a ready laugh. He does his work neatly and has excellent manners...he is a joy to be around."
His second-year teacher wrote "Teddy is an excellent student who is 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-year teacher had written "Teddy continues to work very hard but it’s clear his mother's death has been hard on him. He obviously tries to do his best but his father doesn't show much interest and his home life will undoubtedly be affecting him if some steps aren't taken."
Teddy's fourth-year teacher wrote "Teddy is withdrawn. He doesn't show any interest in school at all. He doesn't have many friends these days and sometimes sleeps during lessons. He is tardy and could potentially become a problem student."
By now, Mrs. Thompson had realized that there was a problem and felt a little ashamed of herself, but Christmas was coming fast and realizing was all that she could do, what with the other children and the school play and all, until the last day of term and she was suddenly forced to focus upon little Teddy Stoddard.
Her children had all brought her presents, all in beautiful ribbon and brightly coloured paper, except for Teddy's, which was kind of clumsily wrapped in heavy brown paper that had clearly once been a shopping bag. Mrs. Thompson took pains to open it in the middle of the other presents.
As she did so, some of the children started to laugh when she found an old rhinestone bracelet with some of the stones actually missing from it, and an old bottle (that was only a quarter full) of perfume. But she stifled those children's laughter when she exclaimed how pretty the bracelet was, putting it on, and dabbing some of the perfume onto her wrists.
Teddy Stoddard stayed behind that day just long enough to say "Mrs. Thompson, today you smelled just like my mum used to."
After all of the children had left, Jean Thompson cried. She cried for at least an hour.
On that day, the last day of term before Christmas, Jean Thompson quit teaching reading, writing, and mathematics. Instead, on the first day of the new term, she began teaching children.
And Jean Thompson paid particular attention to the child they all called 'Teddy'.
As she worked with him, his mind seemed to come alive. The more she encouraged him, the faster he responded. On days where there would be an important test, Mrs. Thompson would always remember the smell of that perfume. By the end of that year, Teddy had become one of the smartest children in his class and, well, he had also kind of become the ‘teachers pet’.
The ‘pet’ of the teacher who had once stood there in front of all of those children and vowed to love them all just the same.
A year later, Mrs. Thompson found a note passed under her classroom door from Teddy, telling her that of all the teachers he'd had in the whole of primary school, she had been his very, very favourite.
Six years went by before she got another note from Teddy. He wrote to her saying that he had now finished secondary school, finished third in his class, and that she was still his favourite teacher of all time.
Three years after that, she received yet another letter, saying that while things had been tough at times, Teddy had stayed in education, he had stuck with it, and would be graduating from university very soon with the highest of honours. And of course, he assured Mrs. Thompson that she was still his favourite teacher of all time.
Five more years passed and yet another letter came. This time Teddy explained that after he got his degree, he had decided to go a little further. The letter explained that she was still the best teacher that he had had in his entire life, but that now his name was a little longer. The letter was signed 'Dr. Theodore F. Stoddard'.
But the story doesn't end there. You see, there was yet another letter later that year.
Teddy, Dr Stoddard, said that he'd met this girl and they were 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 in the seat that would have usually been reserved for the mother of the groom.
Well, of course, she did. She wore that bracelet, the one with several stones missing, and she wore the perfume that little Teddy Stoddard had given her as a clumsily wrapped Christmas gift all of those years ago. And on that special day, Jean Thompson smelled just like...well, just like the way Teddy remembered his mother smelling 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."
Never underestimate the impact your actions or inactions may have upon another person’s life.