This morning I took my oldest son, Aidan, to his very first day of Kindergarten- no easy task for a Mom, I assure you. He was so excited to see his teacher and classmates and to begin his journey of “growing up” that it made my worry seem unnecessary. As I looked at the faces of the teachers lining the hallways, some were all smiles and welcoming their new students with ease- clearly they had a few years of experience under their belts. A few others had nervous smiles and seemed to be a bit overwhelmed by the flood of children, parents, and noise. I’m going to assume they were the rookies just getting their feet wet. But this morning’s experience reminded me of a story that a seasoned teacher shared with me during one of my recent leadership and team building workshops- a true story. Her story. While I’ve changed the names at her request, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to share it with all of you.
Janna Weiss stood in front of her fifth-grade class on the very first day of school in the fall and told the children a lie. Like most teachers, she looked at her pupils and said that she loved them all the same, that she would treat them all alike. And that was impossible because there in front of her, slumped in his seat on the third row, was a little boy named Teddy Simpson.
Mrs. Weiss had watched Teddy the year before and noticed he didn’t play well with the other children, that his clothes were unkempt and that he constantly needed a bath. And Teddy was unpleasant.
It got to the point during the first few months that she would actually take delight in marking his papers with a broad red pen, making bold X’s and then marking the F at the top of the paper biggest of all. Because Teddy was a sullen little boy, no one else seemed to enjoy him either.
At the school where Mrs. Weiss taught, she was required to review each child’s records and she purposefully put Teddy’s off until last. When she opened his file, she had no clue that she was in for a surprise. His first-grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is a bright, inquisitive 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, “Teddy continues to work hard but 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. He is tardy and could become a problem.”
By now Mrs. Weiss realized the problem, but the year was nearly half over and Christmas was coming fast. If it was all she could do, she would begin to focus on Teddy Simpson.
Her children brought her presents, all in beautiful ribbon and bright paper, except for Teddy’s, which was clumsily wrapped in the heavy, brown paper of a scissor-cut grocery bag. Mrs. Weiss 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 cologne. She stifled the children’s laughter when she exclaimed how pretty the bracelet was, putting it on, and dabbing some of the perfume behind the other wrist. Teddy Simpson stayed behind just long enough to say, “Mrs. Weiss, today you smelled just like my mom used to.”
Monday Morning Perspective
“Sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abysses nature leads, or you shall learn nothing.” –Thomas Henry Huxley
“Preconceived notions are the locks on the door to wisdom.” -Merry Browne
After the children left she cried for at least an hour. On that very day, she quit teaching reading, writing, and speaking. Instead, she began to teach children. Janna Weiss paid particular attention to the one everyone called “Teddy.”
As she worked with him, his mind seemed to come alive. The more she encouraged him, the faster he responded. On days where there would be an important test, Mrs. Weiss would remember to wear that special cologne. By the end of the year he had become one of the smartest children in the class and he had also become the “pet” of the teacher who had once vowed to love all of her children exactly the same.
A year later she found a note under her door, from Teddy, telling her that of all the teachers he’d had in elementary school, she was his favorite. 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 his favorite teacher of all time.
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 graduate from college with the highest of honors. He assured Mrs. Weiss she was still his favorite teacher.
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 his favorite teacher, but that now his name was a little longer. The letter was signed, Theodore F. Simpson, M.D.
The story doesn’t end there. You see, there was yet another letter that following Spring. Teddy said he’d met a young woman, had fallen in love, and was to be married. He explained that his father had died a couple of years ago and he was wondering if Mrs. Weiss might agree to sit in the pew usually reserved for the mother of the groom. She accepted.
On that special day, she wore that bracelet, the one with several rhinestones missing, and Janna smelled just the way Teddy remembered his mother smelling on their last Christmas together.
You never can tell what type of impact you may make on another’s life by your actions or lack thereof. Consider this fact in your own life. A person doesn’t have to be a child to have their life forever changed by another human being- adults often need understanding just as much, if not more.
Who could you impact if you were willing to dig a little deeper? And how might it affect you? I can tell you that “Janna” can’t tell this story without the emotion of the memories bringing tears to her eyes and a smile to her lips. We could all use more memories like hers.
Have a wonderful week!
@Professional Coaching Consultants, LLC 2012.
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