Monday, March 15, 2010

Just Try Not To Cry! I Dare Ya!

So, uh, Slacker Boy is feeling lazy this week, so rather than rambling on about some less than exciting happening in my pitiful life I thought I would share a story with you. It's a story that some of you have probably heard before but it is just about my all time favorite.

It's a story I first heard told by Tony Campolo (and if you know who Tony Campolo is, I'm impressed)! BUT it was originally written by a woman named Elizabeth Silance Ballard. It is a story that will make you see others a little differently. But I gotta warn you, if you've never heard it before . . .

This story will make you cry!

You've been warned!

I think it's a GREAT story to share with others - especially if you like to make others cry too!

Three Letters from Teddy
Elizabeth Silance Ballard

Teddy Stallard was a student in my fifth 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 not supposed to show dislike for a child, any child.

Nevertheless, every year there are one or two children that you cannot help but become attached to and sometimes, not too often, fortunately, there are one or two students to whom the teacher just can’t seem to relate.

There wasn’t a child I particularly liked that year, but Teddy, was most definitely the one I disliked. He was dirty. His hair hung down in his eyes, and he actually had to hold it out of the way as he wrote papers in class. Plus, he had a peculiar odor about him which I could never identify.

His faults were many, and his intellect left a lot to be desired. 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.

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 paper, the cross marks (and there were many) were always a little larger and a little redder than necessary. I always seemed to mark an “F” on his papers with extra flourish.

While I did not actually ridicule him, my attitude was obviously quite apparent to the class, and he quickly became the class "goat" - the outcast. 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 on his behalf.

The days rolled by. We made it through the fall and the Thanksgiving holidays. As the Christmas holiday approached, I knew that Teddy would never catch up in time to be promoted to the sixth grade level. To justify myself, I went to his file and, for the first time, read some of the remarks from his previous teachers:

First grade: Teddy shows promise by work and attitude, but has a poor home situation.
Second grade: Teddy could do better. Mother has been sick a lot. He receives little help at home.
Third grade: Teddy is a pleasant boy. Helpful, but too serious. Slow learner. His mother passed away end of the year.
Fourth grade: Very slow, but well behaved. Father shows no interest.

And then the last day before the holiday arrived. Teachers always get several gifts at Christmas, but mine that year seemed bigger and more elaborate than ever. It seemed like there was not a student who had not brought one.

Teddy’s gift was in the middle of the pile. Its wrapping was a brown paper bag, and he had obviously colored and decorated himself. 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 embarrassed because they all stood watching me unwrap the 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 dime-store 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 he fixed the clasp, and I held up my wrist for all of them to admire. There were a few ooh’s and ahh’s, but as I dabbed the cologne behind my ears, all the little girls lined up for a dab behind their ears.

When the day ended 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 up to me, clutching his gift and books to his chest.

"You smell just like my mom" he said softly. "Her bracelet looks really pretty on you too. I’m glad you like it."

He left quickly. I locked the door, sat down at my desk, and cried. That day I resolved to make up to Teddy what I had deliberately deprived him of - a teacher who cared.

I stayed every afternoon with Teddy from that point on until the last day of school. 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. In fact, his final averages were among the best 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.

I did not hear from Teddy until seven years later, when his first letter appeared in my mailbox:

Dear Ms. Thompson,
I just wanted you to be the first to know, I will be graduating from high school next month - second in my class!
Very Truly Yours,
Teddy Stallard

I wondered what he would do after graduation. Four years later, Teddy’s second letter came:

Dear Ms. Thompson,
I wanted you to be the first to know. I just found out that I'll be graduating first in my class. College has not been easy, but I liked it.
Very Truly Yours,
Teddy Stallard

I was so proud of him, I could burst!

And now - today - Teddy's last letter:

Dear Ms. Thompson,
I wanted you to be the first to know. As of today, I am Theodore J. Stallard, MD. How about that!!?? I'm going to be married in July, the twenty-seventh to be exact. I wanted to ask you if you would come and sit where my mom would have sat if she were here. I will have no family there as Dad died last year.
Very Truly Yours,
Teddy Stallard

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