Teachers like to think that they know their students well, but Jean Thompson found out just how wrong some impressions can be. All it took was focusing on one particular little boy in her class. It’s stories like these that help us to look at life from a different perspective.
On the first day of school, Jean stood in front of her fifth grade class, welcomed all the students, and told them that they would all be treated exactly the same. It was something she liked to say even though she knew it wasn’t really true. And that’s because it wasn’t really possible — especially this year with Teddy Stoddard sitting in the third row.
Jean had noticed him the year before in the schoolyard. He rarely played with the other kids, his clothes were often dirty, and he constantly required extra attention. He was also very moody to the point that the other children tried to avoid him. In the first few months as his teacher, Jean had no other choice but to give him an “F” on some of his assignments even though it nearly broke her heart to do it.
Jean was curious to find out more about Teddy and had a look at his school file. His first grade teacher had written: “Teddy is a friendly, curious child who likes to laugh. He completes his schoolwork properly and is always well-mannered. It is a real pleasure to have him in my class.”
Teddy’s second grade teacher had written this: “Teddy is an excellent student. He is liked by his schoolmates, but his mother’s illness has affected him deeply. His life at home must be quite difficult at the moment.”
When Teddy was in third grade, his teacher had written this: “Teddy continues to work hard, and although the death of his mother has made it very difficult for him, he always tries his best. Unfortunately his father does not seem to show much interest in Teddy and I am concerned that the family situation will soon start to have a negative effect on him if something is not done soon.”
In fourth grade, Teddy’s teacher had made these comments: “Teddy is very withdrawn and does not show much interest in school. He does not have many friends, sometimes falls asleep in class and often comes to school late. It appears that Teddy could become a difficult case.”
Now Jean knew why Teddy was the way he was. But what could she do about it?
By this time they were nearly halfway through the school year and Christmas was just around the corner. Jean received presents from all of her students, most of them nicely wrapped and adorned with bows — all of them except one. There among the others was a package that was poorly wrapped in plain, brown paper.
Jean began opening the presents in front of the class, and as she unwrapped the one in plain, brown paper, some of the students started to laugh when she pulled out a plastic bracelet and a half-empty of bottle of perfume. Jean told them to stop laughing and said how much she liked the bracelet. Then she sprayed some perfume on her wrists and rubbed them together.
She closed her eyes briefly to focus on the scent and was surprised to see Teddy standing in front of her when she opened them again. “Ms. Thompson, today you smell just like my mother,” he said sheepishly.
When the children left for the day, Jean broke down and cried. After receiving Teddy’s beautiful gift, she couldn’t help but pay special attention to him in class and when she worked with him she could see that something in him was being brought out — something that had been buried by sadness and loneliness for too long. The more Jean encouraged him, the more enthusiastic he became.
By the end of the year, Teddy was getting good grades and was one of the best students in Jean’s class.