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Importance of Education

John Simkin

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As she stood in front of her 5th grade class on the very first day of school, she told the children an untruth. Like most teachers, she looked at her students and said that she loved them all the same. However, 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 did not play well with the other children, that his clothes were messy and that he constantly needed a bath. In addition, 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Teddy's fourth grade teacher wrote, "Teddy is withdrawn and doesn't show much interest in school.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 he 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 the 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, 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 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 had 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, MD.

The story does not end there. You see, there was yet another letter that Spring. Teddy said he had 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 at the wedding in the place that was usually reserved for the mother of the groom.

Of course she would and she wore that bracelet , the one with several rhinestones missing. Moreover, 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! .." (For those of you who don't know, Teddy Stoddard is the Dr. at Iowa Methodist in Des Moines that has the Stoddard Cancer Wing.)

I love this story so very much, I cry every time I read it. Just try to make a difference in someone's life today? tomorrow? just "do it".

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just "do it".

"the tale of little Teddy Stoddard and his inspirational teacher, Mrs. Thompson, is a work of fiction. The original story, which first appeared in significantly different form in the magazine Home Life in 1976, was written by Elizabeth Silance Ballard (now Elizabeth Ungar) and called "Three Letters from Teddy."

"the only Stoddard connected with Iowa Methodist Hospital in Des Moines was Dr. John Stoddard, who died in 1998".



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The literal truth of this story is unimportant. As you are aware, Jesus Christ made use of stories that were not true in his teachings. He was of course interested in far deeper truths.

It is this deeper truth that appealed to me in this story. I have to admit I identified with the story of Teddy Stoddard. In my case, I lost a father rather than a mother. I had just moved to a new secondary school (I was 11 at the time). The standard of my work declined rapidly after this traumatic event. If I had still been at my primary school I am sure my teachers would have realised the reasons for this. However, my teachers in the secondary school were not interested in the reasons for this decline and instead like, Teddy’s teachers, seemed to 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 (my) papers.”

Of course, faced with this situation, I could not get out of school life quick enough and left at 15 without any qualifications. I was lucky, I encountered a real teacher in the factory where I went. He realised why I had underperformed at school. Although he had also left school without qualifications, he knew all about what sociologists now call “labelling” and the links between this and underachievement. He helped me to develop a new view of myself. Eventually I had the confidence to return to college and continue my education. Eventually it led to an Open University degree.

My friends were shocked that I used this degree to go into teaching. After all, they said, didn’t you hate your times at school. Yes, I did, but I thought I had a responsibility to go into teaching and help those like me, who had been labelled as “non academic”. As I told a newspaper reporter when I got my degree: “I know that I was no more intelligent than the rest of the kids at my school. Only unlike the others, I met a man who helped me obtain a desire for education. My case does not show how intelligence wins through. My case shows how, year after year, we allow the intellectual abilities of thousands upon thousands of children from the working class to go to waste.” (This was later quoted in Roland Meighan’s A Sociology of Educating, page 17).

When I became a teacher I realised that I was not alone in being interested in the underachievers. Unfortunately, the profession contained far too many people who seemed to get pleasure in the use of the red pen.

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The literal truth of this story is unimportant.


I was lucky, I encountered a real teacher in the factory where I went.


I thought I had a responsibility to go into teaching and help those like me, who had been labelled as “non academic”.

I agree. "Real teachers": that's what all children need. I couldn't count all the underachievers my colleagues and I have tried and managed to help. But I remember the case of a very brilliant student in my school about twenty years ago, when there was less communication between the families and the school itself: he lost his father suddenly while taking his exams and failed his oral test soon after the funeral. No teacher helped him, he had to repeat the year.

Now things have changed, we are always informed about students' problems, family situations, special needs. etc. We try to take into account mainly students' progress in education when evaluating their final results, and sometimes many of us in my school tend to give them another chance, before labelling them as "non academic".

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I guess I think the literal truth IS important. Every time an "inspiring" story is presented as truth, and then is discovered to be fiction, it erodes readers' faith in what they're reading. Thus, the next time they read or hear about an inspirational teacher, they may be inclined to doubt it, especially if their contact with the educational system has been largely negative. Aren't there enough REAL stories out there?

Here's one, though I don't know how inspiring it is... When I entered my first science fair in junior high, I had been studying butterflies for years. I really knew a lot about them. But my project was not presented well, and thus the judges were inclined to give me a "9" instead of a "10" - which would have meant that I wouldn't advance to the next round. One of the judges, a science teacher from a high school in another part of the city, recognized potential in my project and persuaded the other judges to change their scores. Then he met with me and invited me to come visit him and learn how to present what I knew more effectively. I did so, on a weekday after he had put in a long day at his high school. He spent several hours with me, asking me questions to make sure I really did know my stuff, suggesting ways I might present that knowledge to the observors.

Based on his advice, I completely re-did my project. I placed first in regionals, and third at state. Twenty-five years ago, I got my Ph.D. in entomology, studying (you guessed it) butterflies. I probably would have done that anyway, but that man really showed me what it meant to be a teacher. I can't even tell you his name, but I know I owe him...

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Have I made a significant difference to anyone in 35+ years of teaching? I really don't know. I've had a few ex-students tell other teachers that I was a "good" English teacher. I've had one student at a reunion tell me that I was the "best" English teacher she'd had. The teacher who now has the Yr 9 class I had last year tells me that they "speak with enthusiasm" about the way I inspired them to enjoy literature, but it's not that much for teaching probably 7000 students over those years.

We so rarely know that we've made a difference because very few students ever tell us so, even if we did. In my current job as President of our union, I know very much more clearly if I'm making a difference. eg the Minister isn't speaking to me at the moment so I must have done something right!! The media very quickly tells me if I've achieved anything worthwhile or not, as do the members.

It's interesting, because it's so different from teaching where you soldier on, regardless of praise or compliments, just because you believe that you MIGHT one day make a difference and that would make it all worthwhile.

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The dinner guests were sitting around the table discussing life. One man decided to explain the problem with education. He argued: "What's a kid going to learn from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher?" He reminded the other dinner guests that it's true what they say about teachers: "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach."

To corroborate, he said to another guest: "You're a teacher, Susan," he said. "Be honest. What do you make?"

This story is the common e-mail and part of an educational motivational speeches in education here in the states.

I thought it seemed somewhat appropriate here.


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>"If I ran my business the way you people operate your schools, I wouldn't be in business very long!"<

This is the title of another anecdote illustrating how education and commerce are different entities. What it says about inclusive education underlines why I feel privileged to work in the SEN department of a comprehensive school, striving daily to improve every student's access to the curriculum.

Follow the link below to read the rest of the story.

"The Blueberry Story: the teacher gives the businessman a lesson" by Jamie Robert Vollmer

David Wilson


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David writes (cited):

If I ran my business the way you people operate your schools, I wouldn't be in business very long.

I spent 25 years in education and I have spent 22 years running a business. Both overlapped for around 11 years. Some of the things that I learned in running a business were highly relevant to my appointment as director of a university language centre, e.g. the necessity of keeping accurate accounts, an inventory of equipment and materials, shopping around for the best deals, etc.

The main difference between a business and education is that in business one has to focus on making a profit, so that one can draw a reasonable salary each month. In this respect a business has to ensure that the goods and services that it sells are in demand. One rarely undertakes a project that is unlikely to generate income. In education, however, many projects are undertaken because they are perceived as “ a good thing”.

I left full-time teaching in 1993 – for several reasons, but partly because my university was becoming too “business-like” and many of the noble things that we did were being dropped simply because they didn’t generate income. The bean counters had taken over. To give one example: I was managing an EC-funded TEMPUS project at the time that this cultural change was taking place. The TEMPUS project involved ICT and language training in Hungary, shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Block. TEMPUS was paid for out of European taxpayers’ money and generated no income whatsoever for my university – but it did not cost us anything either as the funding came from the EC. The new chief finance officer (who had formerly worked in business) could not understand this. She asked me what was the point of a project that did not generate income. I explained that TEMPUS aimed to help raise the skills level of former Soviet Block countries, bringing them into line with Western Europe. She then asked what the university got out of it. I explained that it gave staff the opportunity to travel and to gain new experiences working in a different cultural environment, that it was immensely rewarding to see the results of one labours, and that it raised the profile of our university, etc, etc. This fell on deaf ears, and for a time I was concerned that we would be forced to pull out of the project. We did not however, and the project came to a successful conclusion in 1996.

My university began to get into serious financial trouble shortly afterwards, resulting in a drastic pruning operation in which the foreign languages and English language schools were closed. Humanities disappeared too. Only the profit-making schools remained. So much for running a university like a business...

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