Remembering the Story, “The Emotional Story of an Educator And Her Student”

On November 20, 2012 I posted an inspirational story about a teacher and one of her students.  After noticing the deterioration of our education system, this story was a breath of fresh air.  It provides hope.  A light at the end of the tunnel.  Not all is lost in a system that has lost its compass.

In Panama our education system is going south, so fast, that soon we will be dancing Tango in Buenos Aires Argentina.  Educators, most of them members of a union, are more interested in money than in teaching.  Education authorities have no idea how to organize the Ministry of Education.  It’s a total chaos in there.  And last, but certainly not least, parents don’t care if their children are learning or not.  They just consider school as a dumping ground where their kids are being taken care of.  It’s their opportunity of getting “the little rascals” off their back.  All three are responsible for our present educational ordeal.

Sorry for the digression, but I had to get it off my chest.  Now going back to our story.  Take a seat, drink a glass of fresh water, hold a tissue paper or a handkerchief—just in case— and carefully read the following story.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did when I first read it several years ago.  I loved it so much, I post it again and again for others to enjoy its message.  This is what education is all about.  Without further ado, here we go.

Gravity has taken hold of our educational system in Panama.  Students graduate without knowing how to think, read or write.  Once, a lovely Miss Panama, participating in a Miss Universe pageant, was asked before a live and world television audience, “Who was Confucius?”.  With a gorgeous smile, she elegantly answered, “Confucius was the inventor of confusion.”  True story.  She returned to Panama as a celebrity for this infamous response.

As a reaction to this increasing education malaise, I penned a blog post on February 11, 2009, which narrates an emotional story between a teacher and one of her students.  It encapsulates what education is all about.  One word of caution though, before you start reading, have a handkerchief handy—just in case.

You can find anything on the Internet, the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.  The Internet represents the human race in flesh and bone,  with its merits and defects.  When I use the Internet, I try to search for the Good and there is plenty.  The Bad and the Ugly I leave for others to find.

One of the many Goods I’ve found while surfing the Web is an extraordinary story about a teacher and one of her students.  The story is so emotional it brought me to tears the first time I read it.  From time to time, I repeat the post for those who have not read it.  It’s a motivational jewel to be shared with others.  Here we go.

A Teacher’s Lesson

There is a story many years ago of an elementary teacher. Her name was Mrs. Thompson.  And as she stood in front of her 5th grade class on the very first day of school, she told the children a lie. Like most teachers, she looked at her students and said that she loved them all the same.

But 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 didn’t play well with the other children, that his clothes were messy and that he constantly needed a bath. And 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 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 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, and 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 his whole 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 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, M.D.

The story doesn’t end there. You see, there was yet another letter that spring. Teddy said he’d 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 in the place at the wedding 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. And 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.”

It’s O.K. to shed a tear or two. I know I did.

Good Day.

Source: A Teacher’s Lesson


6 thoughts on “Remembering the Story, “The Emotional Story of an Educator And Her Student””

  1. Omar this is going to be a long response to your story.

    I agree with you about the teachers and the education system in Panama. Children are not taught critical thinking skills they are taught to copy and obey. It’s truly unfortunate and it is going to take many years for the system to change, if it ever does.

    Once in a great while, however, there is a bright light. I’ve seen one or two children that, if they were to continue their education, and their parents continue to support them the way they are now, will be changing the world one day.

    Now, I’d like to share another story. It’s a story of one of my Panamanian friends. This young man lost his mother when he was 13. Shortly thereafter his father abandoned him and his sister. Both children were fortunate to have a loving aunt, his mother’s sister, who cared for the children. She also had children of her own, so the young man worked hard and did well in school and helped to raise his sister. He was determined that both he and his sister would go to university. He did grow to go to the public university, deciding to major in English. Fortunate, given the mandate that Varela now has to make Panamanian children bilingual.

    The young man worked several different jobs before he finally got hired by MEDUCA and he also found work teaching at one of the university campuses a couple towns over from where he lives in the evening. He was among the first groups of teachers sent to the USA to improve their English language and teaching skills. He recently celebrated his 26th birthday and I couldn’t be prouder of him if he were my own child. Here is an excerpt my birthday message to him:

    ¡Feliz cumpleaños amigo! Hope you have the best year ever!

    3/10, 9:52am
    Te quiero mucho

    3/10, 9:53am
    Hope everything is going well for you. You’ve had a pretty exciting and productive few months!

    3/10, 9:54am
    Yeah! My dream came true
    It was amazing
    I learned a lot while being in the United States

    3/10, 9:56am
    That’s excellent. You and yours are pioneers. Never give up on your dreams my friend…shoot for the stars! There’s always a way and Panama is so lucky to have people like you that believe in what they are doing. Never stop learning and never stop passing your knowledge on to others. You should be very proud of yourself for all you have achieved.

    3/10, 9:58am
    I am very proud of myself
    Because I have got almost everything I wanted

    3/10, 9:58am
    like emoticon

    3/10, 9:59am
    I never thought a poor Tableño was going to have the chance to go to the USA
    But I could do it
    I will keep doing what I love

    3/10, 10:03am
    It only goes to show that hard work and perseverance pays off. Only with both will Panama have a sustainable middle-class. You need to continue to set an example for young people E. You are self-made and that is something that you should be really proud of. Stay focused and work hard. And it is a true blessing to be doing something that you love. Not many people get that opportunity. Have a wonderful birthday. Hope it is full of love, family and friends. smile emoticon

    3/10, 10:06am
    Beautiful words

    Omar, I hold out hope for Panama and its children. It breaks my heart to see a young girl in her school uniform, pregnant and unmarried. The root of the problem is more than the education system, you’re correct, it lies with the families. How do you affect a cultural change? It begins with Panamanians such as yourself.

    Thank you for sharing this story. Have a Blessed Easter.

    Karen Ann

  2. Hello Karen Ann:

    Mmm…I like that name. Sounds musical. Anyway, I loved your story about the Tableño who rose over and above his environment and achieved his dreams. There are specks of light that twinkle now and then, but they are hard to find.

    I’m an optimistic person, but I’m also realistic and pragmatic. To change our culture, will take several generations and a leader to set the example to follow. At this moment, I do not see it. Neither the Executive, Judical or Legislative Branches are setting up a good example for the rest of us.

    We the people should start “walking the walk”, the sooner the better. Today, being Good Friday—Viernes Santos—I was up early. I was surprised to listen to a radio in full blast playing Reggae. Can you believe that? On Good Friday? This is a sad example of our present decaying values .

    I know we are better than that. At 69, I remember how we behaved when we were young. All of it has gone down the drain. Today, being a religious day, is a good time to think about subjects like these and start a change in moral values, now matter how little they seem to be. A drop of water, over time can drill a hole through a solid rock.

    Thank you for your story. It was very inspiring and induces hope in our future.

    Blessings and Happy Easter!


  3. Thank you, Omar.

    And in regards to the music the people who are renting the house across the street are already clinking beer bottles and playing loud music from one of the six cars they have parked on the lawn. I was so hoping for some peace and quiet. I find it disturbing when people who are here only for holidays disrespect the people who live here. My neighbours are not like this at all. We’re waiting patiently for them to depart to the beach with their several vehicles.

    I agree with you about the comments about the government. As an observer, I think they need to do away with the excuses about the previous government and get on with it already.

    As for my name, I recently celebrated a birthday. If I had been born two days later, on March 17th, I would have been named Patricia. 🙂

    Have a wonderful (and I hope somewhat peaceful) day.


  4. Hi Karen:

    At this moment the radio is silent. Maybe they are sleeping their hangover. Only the birds are heard. Nice and quiet as it should be during this day as a sign of respect for such a universal religious leader as Jesus Christ.

    It is so disappointing to watch the behaviour of people as the ones you described. For them, Good Friday is only good for drinking and taking a plunge at the beach. This is what I mean about social values going down the drain.

    Enjoy the silence for the time being. Simon & Garfunkel said it best when they sang, “The Sound of Silence”.

    Oh, one more thing…Happy Birthday, albeit a bit late. 🙂



  5. Oh, my goodness,what a touching story! Had me crying my eyes out, so yes, I was grabbing tissues. We never know how much we touch people in our lives every day and we should always strive to make a difference whether it be just a smile Hello or genuinely taking interest in someone’s day. Our education here in the US is somewhat a shambles, as well, and teachers don’t seem to want to make a difference. But my daughter has had some tremendous teachers that have inspired and influenced her to follow her dreams. She has blossomed through the years from my terribly shy little girl to someone who is caring, compassionate and outgoing.

    Thank you, so much for sharing this story, Omar and it is a great reminder to all of us. Blessings on the Easter Weekend~

    1. Morning Barbara:

      This story has been close to my heart for many years. Occasionally I reblog it for those readers who have seen it yet.

      Every time I read it, I also get misty eyes. It’s such an emotional story. This is what education, real education, is all about.

      I am so glad that you enjoyed it too.

      Happy Easter,


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