April 2006 Newsletter

Hello everyone, and welcome to the April 2006 edition of my newsletter.  This is a challenging month for me, because I'm moving.  Isn't it ridiculous how much stuff we accumulate?  I've been in this house less than two years and, despite my previous declaration to never again surround myself with all those material things, I'm amazed at how much more there is to move out than there was to move in eighteen months ago!  There's a lesson in that, I'm sure.  Something along the lines of remembering what matters most would seem to be in order for this month's newsletter.  And since I don't have the time or mental clarity to create something original, I hope you won't mind if I share with you one of the stories I've collected over the years.  It warms my heart, and I hope it does the same for you.

The seven teaching principles and ten commonsense community-building principles, about which I've written in my books, Teaching Common Sense and Mission Possible!, all seem to be captured in this one simple story.  Let's all remember to be diligent each and every day to fight the natural human tendency to make snap judgments and develop quick first impressions based only on what we observe from the outside.  Inside every person we meet resides a unique genius struggling to get out.  Let's be the facilitators who help set them free.


Teddy’s Story

 Author Unknown

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 and 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 the 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 "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 some 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 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."

Warm someone's heart today with a random act of kindness.  Believe in Angels, then return the favor.

Note to Readers:

The first version I read of this story claimed that Teddy Stoddard is a doctor at Iowa Methodist in Des Moines that has the Stoddard Cancer Wing.  I've since read that this is untrue.  But, whether the story above is true or just a heartwarming hoax, the message remains the same.  We've all had our Teddys.  I knew a little boy, who was actually named Teddy, when I was a teenager growing up in Greene County.  He was a little boy in my church, and he was as mean as a snake.  His mother always looked like she was on her very last nerve.  I felt toward Teddy just as the teacher in the story above did about her Teddy in the beginning.  Only I never challenged my opinion of my Teddy.  I don't even know what happened to him.  And I have to admit to feeling a little guilty about that now.  The lesson in all this seems to be, Teddys will always be among us.  And they won't always be children.  They come in all ages, shapes and sizes.  Our test is, "How will we respond to them?"  As for me, I will never dismiss any of my Teddys ever again.