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Teddy’s fourth grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is withdrawn and doesn’t show much interest in school.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 still 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.”
(For you that don’t know, Teddy Stoddard is the Dr. at Iowa Methodist Hospital in Des Moines that has the Stoddard Cancer Wing.)
Random acts of kindness, I think they call it – Believe in Angels, then return the favour.”
- The child is variously named “Teddy Stallart,” “Teddy Stoddart,” or “Teddy Stallard.”
- Some versions in circulation conclude, “For those of you who don’t know, Teddy Stoddard is the Dr. at Iowa Methodist in Des Moines that has the Stoddard Cancer Wing.” There is no Dr. Teddy (or Theodore) Stoddard working at the John Stoddard Cancer Center at Iowa Methodist Medical Center in Des Moines. Moreover, that facility was named for John Stoddard, an engineer and real estate developer who donated money for the center.
Origins: This touching tale is one of pure invention: there is no Teddy Stoddart (or Stallart) whose life was so changed by one special teacher who reached out to him, no Mrs. Thompson of rhinestone bracelet-wearing fame.
This work of fiction was penned by Elizabeth Silance Ballard in 1974 and printed that year in HomeLife magazine, a Baptist family publication. The author’s intent was far from unclear, as the piece was clearly marked as fiction and was presented as such, not as an account of a personal experience. Although Ballard based some of the details on elements of her own life, she has expressed disappointment that her fictional work continues to be circulated as a true story:
Read more at
Elizabeth Silance Ballard
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 in 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.
I have not seen Teddy Stallard since he was a student in my 5th grade class, 15 years ago. It was early in my career, and I had only been teaching 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 not supposed 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 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 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 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. 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. We made it through 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 from time to time. He had very low grades for the first four years, but not grade failure. How he had made it, I didn’t know. I closed my mind to 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 at end of 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 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-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 bells 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 aahs, 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 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. 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 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 enjoyed a measure of success, and as we were taught in our teacher training courses, “Success builds success.”
I did not hear from Teddy until seven 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 next month.
Very truly yours,
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,
I send 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,
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:
Congratulations! You made it, and you did it yourself! In spite of those like me and not because of us, this day has come to you. God bless you. I’ll be at that wedding with bells on!
Elizabeth Silance Ballard