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An Inspirational Story

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Teddy’s fourth grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is withdrawn and doesn’t show much interest in school.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.”

 

 

from Snopes.com

Variations:

  • 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 

http://www.snopes.com/glurge/teddy.asp#Q6qXkXtrWExUOfru.99

 

 

Three Letters from Teddy

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,
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 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,
Teddy Stallard

 

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 to you. God bless you. I’ll be at that wedding with bells on!

Elizabeth Silance Ballard

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Tagore

TOI MOBILE

 

Tagore’s legacy: Seeking out the man behind the mask

May 8, 2013

Tagore’s legacy: Seeking out the man behind the mask (Thinkstock photos/Getty Images)

To reconsider the legacy of Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) on his 152nd birth anniversary is to confront a maze of contradictions.

What, for instance, inspired a school dropout without a college degree to establish an international university? Why did a member of the land-owning ‘zamindar’ class feel compelled to write about the lives of oppressed peasants, and to experiment with schemes for rural development? How could a man write so insightfully about the lives of women? What made him express religious devotion in erotic language, and love in the language of religion? Why did he yearn for fame, yet live in constant fear of it?

Difficult questions, but some clues may be found in the chequered narrative of Rabindranath’s own life. He was born, he tells us, at the confluence of three important movements: the wave of social and religious reform, the literary renaissance in Bengal, and the nationalist struggle. His grandfather, Dwarakanath Tagore, was a well-known entrepreneur, and his father, Debendranath Tagore, was a pioneer of the Brahmo Samaj, a group of liberals who opposed Hindu orthodoxy. The youngest of 14 children, Rabindranath grew up in a privileged household in Kolkata, in an eclectic atmosphere where he was exposed to multiple cultural influences. He could never adapt to formal systems of schooling; he received his real education from the rich cultural environment of his home and family, and his travels in India and abroad. His literary talent blossomed early, and under the influence of his brother, Jyotirindranath, he discovered his gift of music.

In childhood and adolescence, his sister-in-law Kadambari Devi became his playmate, companion and early muse. As a young man, he was sent to East Bengal (then East Pakistan, now Bangladesh) to mind the family estates there. Here he fell in love with the riverine landscape of Bengal, and also developed a strong social conscience, as well as an understanding of psychology, through his direct contact with ordinary people. At 20, he married Mrinalini Devi, aged ten. They had several children, and their marriage was a happy one.

In the early 1900s, Tagore suffered a series of personal losses, with the deaths of his father, his wife, and his favourite child. During this period, he first espoused, and then moved away from, the fiery nationalism of the ‘swadeshi’ (nationalist) movement. In 1913 came the Nobel Prize, and international acclaim. In 1919, he renounced his knighthood in protest against the Jallianwallah Bagh massacre by the British soldiers. All his life, Tagore travelled restlessly, in search of diverse cultural experiences, but also often to raise funds for Visva-Bharati, his university in Santiniketan, West Bengal. Late in life, Tagore emerged as a painter of rare talent. His works drew international attention thanks to the efforts of Victoria Ocampo, an Argentinian woman with whom he formed a close friendship.

Tagore was a complex person, tormented by inner conflicts. He craved for solitude, yet felt a profound sense of affinity with others. He yearned for fame, yet lived in constant fear that it would dilute his genius. Through his long career, Rabindranath was dogged by controversy. Many did not understand his ambivalence about East-West relations, for though he opposed British imperialism, he remained a great admirer of English literature and art. Deploring aggressive and materialistic forms of nationalism, Tagore criticised Japan for aping the West, yet affirmed his faith in the future resurgence of Asia. Though he and Gandhi shared a mutual admiration, they differed on many counts, for Tagore did not endorse the Non-Cooperation Movement, and placed humanism above nationalism.

When he died in 1941, Tagore left behind a staggering body or work. A prolific writer and artist, he composed not only poetry but also plays, stories, novels, essays, songs, satires, travelogues, memoirs and letters. He wrote, for instance, almost 100 short stories, over 40 plays, and more than 2,000 songs. His collected works and letters run into more than 30 volumes. About 3,000 paintings are attributed to him. His doodles blur the line between writing and visual art. Rabindrasangeet, the form of music and songs invented by Tagore, is an eclectic mix of classical, folk and foreign influences, set to exquisite lyrics that have come to be regarded as a cornerstone of Bengali culture and consciousness.

Rabindranath has the unique distinction of having composed the songs that would later become the national anthems of India and Bangladesh and is said to have inspired the anthem of Sri Lanka as well. His works have been translated into many languages. At the peak of his fame, he was feted by the Western world as the author of Gitanjali, Sadhana and The Religion of Man. His song, Ekla cholo re (“Walk alone”) inspired Gandhi, and the poems of Gitanjali stirred the imagination of W.B. Yeats and William Rothenstein. Though widely regarded as a poet-philosopher, he was also a brilliant writer of short stories, and had a profound impact on the emergence of the modern Indian novel. In Chokher Bali he highlights the plight of widows, and in Gora, denounces forms of social discrimination based on caste, creed and nationality. His letters are a treasure-trove of ideas, experiences and emotions, and plays such as Raktakarabi remain landmarks in symbolic drama. He also translated some of his own works into English.

Yet Tagore’s reputation, always fragile, stands today at a precarious crossroads between the blind adulation of his diehard admirers and the near-oblivion to which the rest of the world seems to have consigned him. To his devotees at home, Tagore remains “Gurudev”, a revered figure beyond criticism. To readers abroad, he still retains something of his earlier image, as a sage from the East with a message that might save the decadent West from disintegration. Tagore, sensitive about his public image, had himself fostered these stereotypes, to some extent. But now it is time to seek out the man behind the mask.

Who, then, is the ‘real’ Tagore? The poet and mystic with his eye trained on infinity, or the stringent social critic whose sharp, unsparing gaze targets the ground realities of his time? The visionary educationist, or the passionate lover of nature? The lyricist who sings of love and loss, rainclouds and thunderstorms, or the spinner of tales who writes so intricately of human relationships in his stories and novels? Is Tagore the presiding deity of Bengali culture, or does he belong to the world?

The “real” Tagore remains notoriously hard to pin down, for his works mean different things to different generations. Certainly, his prescience seems extraordinary. His prime concerns – gender, class, caste, nation, community, language, violence, environment, education, rural reconstruction, literature, art, relationships – continue to haunt us today. His humanism and advocacy of tolerance have not lost their significance for our divided world. “We may become powerful by knowledge, but we attain fullness by sympathy”, he insisted. Rabindranath raised his voice against the dominance of some nations over others, but also recognized the power of language, literature, art and music to create bridges of understanding across geopolitical borders.

A pity, then, that young people today know so little about Tagore, for he has so much to offer them. A strong opponent of rote learning, he celebrates the imaginative freedom of the “child mind”, its closeness to the miracle of nature and creation. This is the founding principle of Visva-Bharati, conceived as a world university where young students develop their intellect and imagination in harmony with the environment. “How intensely did life throb for us! Earth, water, foliage and sky all spoke to us and would not be disregarded”, he says of his own childhood, in My Reminiscences. In a sense, Rabindranath never really grew up, for he never lost his childlike sense of wonder at the beauty of our world. If the younger generations have lost touch with their “child mind”, perhaps it is to Rabindranath Tagore they should turn, to recover something of that magic.

(Radha Chakravarty, literary critic and translator, is the co-editor of The Essential Tagore (Harvard and Visva-Bharati, 2011) and the author of Novelist Tagore: Gender and Modernity in Selected Texts (Routledge 2013))

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