This is the long version of "3 letters from
Teddy", but it is worth every word!
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 that he had written and my
heart swelled with a pride that I had no right to feel. I have not seen Teddy Stallard since
he was a student in my 5th grade class, fifteen years ago. It was early in my career, and I
had only been teaching for two years. From the first day he stepped into my classroom, I
disliked Teddy. Teachers (although everyone knows differently) are not supposed to have
favorites in a class, but most especially are they 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 10 years old or 25. And sometimes, not too often,
fortunately, there will be one or two students to whom the teacher just can't seem to relate.
I have thought myself quite capable of handling any personal feelings along that line until
Teddy walked into my life.
There wasn't a child I particularly liked that
year, by Teddy was most assuredly one I disliked. He was dirty, 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 which I could never identify. His physical faults were many,
and his intellect left a lot to be desired, also. 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! I began to
withdraw from him immediately. 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
her credentials can channel work to the bright child, keeping him challenged and learning,
while she puts her major effort on the slower ones. Any teacher can do this. Most teachers do
it, 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
there 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. All I know is that
he was a little boy no one cared about, and I made no effort in his behalf.
The days rolled by. He made it though the Fall
Festival and the Thanksgiving holidays, and I continued marking happily with my red pen. As
the Christmas holidays 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 form 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 has 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 holiday
Our little tree on the reading table sported
paper and popcorn chains. Many gifts were heaped underneath, waiting for the big moment.
Teachers as always get several gifts at Christmas, but mine that year seemed bigger and more
elaborate the 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 you's. 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 balls all over it. It was stuck
together with masking tape. "For Miss Thompson-From Teddy" it read. The group was completely
silent, and for the first time 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 dimestore
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 oohs and ahhs, 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, and 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 fists 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. 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
I stayed every afternoon with Teddy from the
end of the Christmas holidays 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 teacher training courses, "Success builds
I did not hear from Teddy until seven years later,
when the 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 next month. Very
truly yours, Teddy Stallard" I sent him a card of congratulations and a small package:
a pen and pencil gift set. I wondered what he would do after graduation.
Four years later, Teddy's second
letter came. "Dear Miss Thompson, I wanted you to be the first to know. I was just
informed that I'll be graduating first in my class. The university has not been easy, but I
liked it. Very truly yours, Teddy Stallard" 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, M. D. How about that??!! I'm going to be married in July...the 27th ,
to be exact. I wanted to ask if you could 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, Teddy
I'm not sure what kind of gift one sends to
a doctor on completion of medical school and state boards. Maybe I'll just wait and take a
wedding gift, but my note can't wait. "Dear Ted, 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!"
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(posted 20 April 2003)