As a kid, I preferred firecrackers to Math textbooks. So imagine the irony of me preparing to speak to 12,000 school teachers this coming year. I hope they’ll laugh. Then we’ll dab our eyes together as I tell this powerful story of what one child taught his teacher.
Like me, Teddy Stallard was disinterested in school. Clothes wrinkled. Hair matted. He was smelly and just plain hard to like. Miss Thompson said she loved all the kids the same, but she summoned a certain perverse pleasure from putting Fs at the top of Teddy’s papers. She knew better. She had seen Teddy’s records: 1st Grade: “Teddy shows promise, but poor home situation.” 2nd Grade: “Teddy could do better. Mother seriously ill.” 3rd Grade: “Teddy is a good boy. His mother died this year.” 4th Grade: “Teddy is very slow. His father shows no interest.”
Just before Christmas the kids brought Miss Thompson presents. Teddy’s was badly wrapped in brown paper. Out fell a gaudy rhinestone bracelet and a bottle of cheap perfume. The kids giggled. Miss Thompson shushed them. She put on the bracelet and dabbed perfume on her wrist. “Doesn’t it smell lovely?” And the children agreed. “Miss Thompson,” said Teddy, “you smell just like my mother…and her bracelet looks real pretty on you, too.” When Teddy left, Miss Thompson got down on her knees and asked God to forgive her. The next day she helped all the children, but especially the slow ones.
Years passed. A letter arrived: “Dear Miss Thompson: I wanted you to be the first to know. I will be graduating 2nd in my class. Love, Teddy Stallard.” Four years later another letter came: “Dear Miss Thompson: They just told me I will be graduating 1st in my class. I wanted you to be the first to know. Love, Teddy.” Four years later: “Dear Miss Thompson: As of today, I am Theodore Stallard, M.D. How about that? I wanted you to be the first to know. I am getting married next month. I want you to come and sit where my mother would sit if she were alive. You are the only family I have now; Dad died last year. Love, Teddy.”
She attended that wedding, of course. She deserved to. Miss Thompson sat proudly where Teddy’s mother would have sat. She had done something for a lost and lonely boy that he would never get over. She not only wore the gifts he gave, she nurtured the gifts he had been given. With God’s help, we can too.
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