The days rolled by. We made it through the Fall Festival and the Thanksgiving holidays, and I continued marking happily with my red pen. As the Christmas holidays approached, I knew that Teddy would never catch up in time to go on to sixth grade. He would be a repeater. To justify myself, I went to his school folder. He had very low grades for the first four years, but no grade failure. How he had made it, I didn't know. I read the following personal remarks but somehow closed my mind.
First grade: Teddy shows promise by work and attitude, but has poor home situation.
Second grade: Teddy could do better. Mother terminally ill. He receives little help at home.
Third grade: Teddy is a pleasant boy. Helpful, but too serious. Slow learner. Mother passed away end of the year.
Fourth grade: Very slow, but well behaved. Father shows no interest.
Well, they had passed him four times, but he will certainly repeat fifth grade! Do him good! I said to myself.
And then the last day before the holiday arrived. Our little Christmas tree on the reading table was colorful with paper and popcorn chains. Many gifts were piled underneath, waiting for the big moment. Teachers always get several gifts at Christmas, but mine that year seemed bigger than ever. There was not a student who had not brought me one. Each unwrapping brought shouts of delight, and the proud giver would receive many thank-yous.
His gift wasn't the last one I picked up; in fact it was in the middle of the pile. Its wrapping was a
brown paper bag, and he had colored Christmas trees and red bells all over it. It was stuck together with masking tape. "For Miss Thompson, from Teddy" it read. The group was completely silent and for the first time I felt embarrassed because they all stood watching me unwrap the gift. As I removed the last bit of masking tape, two items fell to my desk: a rhinestone bracelet with several stones missing and a small bottle of cheap cologne-half empty.
I could hear the low laughter and whispers, and I wasn't sure I could look at Teddy. "Isn't this lovely?" I asked, placing the bracelet on my wrist. "Teddy, would you help me fasten it?" He smiled shyly as he fixed the clasp, and I held up my wrist for all of them to see. There were a few ooh's and ahh's, but as I dabbed the cologne behind my ears, all the little girls lined up for a dab behind their ears.
I continued to open gifts until I reached the bottom of the pile. We ate our refreshments, and the bell rang. The children filed out with shouts of "See you next year!" and "Merry Christmas!" but Teddy waited at his desk.. When they had all left, he walked up to me with his gift and books in his hands. "You smell just like my mom," he said softly. "Her bracelet looks real pretty on you too. I'm glad you liked it."
He left quickly. I locked the door, sat down at my desk, and cried. It was then and there I decided to make it up to Teddy and give him the teacher he deserved.
I stayed every afternoon with Teddy from the end of Christmas holidays until the last day of school. Sometimes we worked together. Sometimes he worked alone while I drew up lesson plans or graded papers. Slowly but surely he caught up with the rest of the class. In fact, his final grades were among the highest in the class, and although I knew he would be moving out of the state when school was out, I was not worried for him. Teddy had come to the point where he could handle any school work no matter where he went. He had some good success, and as we were taught in our teacher training courses, "Success builds success."