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"THE LAST DAY OF SCHOOL"
By Roy Exum
When Tony Campolo was in Chattanooga last week to speak at the annual
"Gathering of Men" breakfast, the noted sociologist told a story that
be repeated, especially on this day. It seems that there was a lady
Jean Thompson and when she stood in front of her fifth-grade class on
very first day of school in the fall, she told the children a lie. Like
teachers, she looked at her pupils and said that she loved them all the
that she would treat them all alike. And that was impossible because
in front of her, slumped in his seat on the third row, was a boy named
Mrs. Thompson had watched Teddy the year before and noticed he didnít
well with the other children, that his clothes were unkempt and that he
constantly needed a bath. Add to it the fact Teddy was unpleasant.
It got to the point during the first few months that she would actually
delight in marking his papers with a broad red pen, making bold ĎXís and
marking the ĎFí at the top of the paper biggest of all.
Because Teddy was a sullen little boy, nobody else seemed to enjoy him,
either. Now at the school where Mrs. Thompson taught, she was required
review each childís records and because of things, put Teddyís off until
last. But, when she opened his file, she was in for a surprise.
His first-grade teacher wrote, "Teddy is a bright, inquisitive child
ready laugh. He does work neatly and has good manners...he is a joy to
His second-grade teacher wrote, "Teddy is an excellent student and is
well-liked by his classmates -- but he is troubled because his mother
terminal illness and life at home must be a struggle."
His third-grade teacher wrote, "Teddy continues to work hard but his
motherís death has been hard on him. He tries to do his best but his
doesnít show much interest and his home life will soon affect him if
steps arenít taken."
Teddyís fourth-grade teacher wrote, "Teddy is withdrawn and doesnít
much interest in school. He doesnít have many friends and sometimes
in class. He is tardy and could become a problem."
By now Mrs. Thompson realized the problem but Christmas was coming
was all she could do, with the school play and all, until the day before
holidays began and she was suddenly forced to focus on Teddy Stoddard on
last day before the vacation would begin. Her children brought her
all in gay ribbon and bright paper, except for Teddyís, which was
wrapped in the heavy, brown paper of a scissored 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
with some of the stones missing, and a bottle that was one-quarter full
cologne. She stifled the laughter when she exclaimed how pretty the
was, putting it on, and she dabbed some of the perfume behind the other
At the end of the day, as the other children joyously raced from the
Teddy Stoddard stayed behind, just long enough to say, "Mrs. Thompson,
you smelled just like my mom used to." As soon as Teddy left, Mrs.
knelt at her desk and there, after the last day of school before
she cried for at least an hour. On that very day, she quit teaching
and writing and speaking. Instead, she began to teach children. And
Thompson paid particular attention to one they all called "Teddy".
As she worked with him, his mind seemed to come alive. The more she
encouraged him, the faster he responded and, on days that there would be
important test, Mrs. Thompson would remember that cologne. By the end
year he had become one of the smartest children in the class and...well,
had also become the "pet" of the teacher who had once vowed to love all
her children exactly the same.
A year later she found a note under her door, from Teddy, telling her
of all the teachers heíd had in elementary school, she was his favorite.
Six years went by before she got another note from Teddy. And then he
that he had finished high school, third in his class, and she was still
favorite teacher of all time.
Four years after that, she got another letter, saying that while things
been tough at times, that heíd stayed in school, had stuck with it, and
graduate from college with the highest of honors. He assured Mrs.
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 bachelorís degree, he decided to go a
further. The letter explained that she was still his favorite teacher
that now his name was a little longer. And the letter was signed,
F. Stoddard, M.D."
The story doesnít end there. You see, there was yet another letter
Spring. Teddy said that...well, that heíd met this girl and was to be
married. He explained that his father had died a couple of years ago
was wondering...well, if Mrs. Thompson might agree to sit in the pew
reserved for the mother of the groom.
Youíll have to decide yourself whether or not she wore that bracelet,
one with several rhinestones missing. But, I bet on that special day,
Thompson smelled just like... well, just like she smelled many years
on the last day of school before the Christmas Holidays began.