Urban myths — Teddy tale #1
Mrs. T. based her Grade 5 teaching approach on the previous year’s teacher’s written comments.
Teddy Stoddard for example. “He doesn’t mix well,” his Grade 4 teacher wrote. “He’s messy, always needs a bath, and is often unpleasant.” Mrs. T. began marking his papers with bold, red Xs.
Near Christmas break she read more. His Grade 1 teacher had written: “Teddy is a bright child with a ready laugh. His work is neat, has good manners; he’s a joy to have.” His Grade 2 teacher added: “Teddy is well liked by his classmates, but he is troubled because his mother has a terminal illness, and life at home is a struggle.”
His Grade 3 teacher wrote: “His mother’s death has been hard on him. His father shows little interest. I expect his home life will affect him if some steps aren’t taken.”
At Christmas, Mrs. T. accepted Teddy’s clumsily brown-paper wrapped present graciously, taking pains to open it midst the beautifully wrapped others.
Laughter came from some when she showed a rhinestone bracelet with stones missing, and a half-empty bottle of perfume. “How pretty,” she said putting the bracelet on, and dabbing some perfume on her wrist. Teddy lingered after school long enough to say, “Mrs. T., today you smelled just like my Mom used to.”
When he was gone, it hit her. She cried for a long time.
“That day,” she said later, “I began teaching children, instead of just reading, writing and arithmetic.” The more she encouraged him, the faster he responded.
A year later she found a note under her door from Teddy saying, “You’re the best teacher I’ve ever had.”
Six years later, she received another note. He wrote he’d finished high school third in his class, and she was still the best teacher he ever had.
Four years later, another letter came from Teddy. He’d graduated from college with honours, and she was still the best teacher he had in his whole life.
Four years later another letter came. This time he told about another degree, and was going further. He told her she was the best teacher he ever had. The letter was signed, Theodore F. Stoddard, MD.
The next letter came the following spring asking her come to his wedding and sit in the place reserved for the mother of the groom. She did, and wore the rhinestone bracelet and the same perfume he’d given her years ago.
Saying goodbye, Dr. Stoddard said quietly, “Thank you Mrs. Thompson for believing in me and showing me I could make a difference.”
Mrs. T., with tears in her eyes, replied, “Teddy, you have it all wrong. You taught me. I didn’t know how to teach until I met you.”
A heart-warming story shared with friends on the internet, adding a touch of warmth to a dull day at least, lifting a spirit at best.
But, it’s an urban myth, and, as such, is immediately suspect. Though, perhaps, before condemning such we might ask ourselves how many of the tales people have passed from generation to generation since time immemorial are the equivalent of urban myths?
Here’s the urban myth debunkers’ website comments: “Heartwarming though it is, the tale of little Teddy Stoddard and his inspirational teacher, Mrs. Thompson, is a work of fiction.
“The original story first appeared in the magazine Home Life in 1976. It was titled Three Letters from Teddy, and was written by Elizabeth Silance Ballard (now Elizabeth Ungar). The main character’s name was Teddy Stallard, not Teddy Stoddard.
In 2001, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Dennis Roddy interviewed the author. She was amazed at how frequently and freely her short story has been adapted, rarely with proper credit.
“I’ve had people use it in their books, except they told it as if it happened to them,” she told Ruddy.
It’s been passed from person to person as a ‘true story’ on the internet since 1998. Paul Harvey used it in a radio broadcast. Dr. Robert Schuller repeated it in a televised sermon. Though it is loosely based on her personal experiences, Ungar insists the story is pure fiction.
A tip of the hat to myths with a message, and storytellers who tell them but give credit to the author.
Another tip of the hat to people everywhere who make a difference for humanity. If only the milk of human kindness was the only drug people could get high on, eh?