The difference that makes the difference.
Here’s a story from my never ending notebook and everlasting pencil.
As she stood in front of her fifth-year primary class on the first day of the school year, Mrs Evans uttered the usual platitude. She told her students that she liked them all equally and would treat them all the same. But that was going to be really hard because sitting in the back row, sprawled over his desk, was Sam Stone.
Mrs Evans had noticed Sam’s progress throughout the previous year. She noticed that he did not mix easily with other children, rarely played with them, that his clothes were dirty, his hair unkempt, and he sometimes smelled less then fresh. He had a bit of a mean streak, too.
Things got to a point where Mrs Evans actually began to take a certain amount of vengeful pleasure in taking out her red chisel-tipped pen and writing big fat Fs at the top of his work.
It was a requirement at this school for teachers to review each child’s past records. Mrs Evans put reading Sam’s records off till last. When she finally got round to it, she gasped with a mingling sense of shame and shock,
Sam’s first-year teacher had written “Sam is a bright child with an engaging personality and a ready laugh. He is well mannered and works neatly and with concentration. He’s good to have around”.
His second-year teacher had written, “Sam is a very good student, and well liked by his classmates. However, he is troubled because his mother has a terminal illness, and life at home must be a struggle”.
His third-year teacher had written, “His mother’s death has hit him hard. He tries to do his best, but his father shows little interest, and his home situation is likely to affect him if steps aren’t taken”.
His fourth-year teacher had written, “Sam is withdrawn, passive and shows little interest in school. He has few friends and frequently sleeps in class”.
Mrs Evans felt a real sense of shame. And when Christmas came and her students all brought her presents, neatly wrapped with ribbons and bows, she made a real effort to look especially pleased with Sam’s gift. It was clumsily wrapped in creased, brown paper and he took it out of a plastic, supermarket bag.
When Mrs Evans unwrapped it, some of the other children started laughing and giggling. She found inside the parcel an imitation diamond bracelet, with some of the stones missing, and a bottle of perfume that was less then half full. But she silenced the children’s laughter when she remarked on how pretty the bracelet was, and slipped it over her wrist. Then she dabbed some perfume on her neck.
Sam Stone stayed after school that day just long enough to say “Thank you, Mrs Evans, today you smelled just like my Mum used to”. After all the children had left, Mrs Evans sat down at her desk and cried. She cried for quite a long time, and she cried for many reasons.
She made a few resolutions while she was crying. And, when she’s finished crying, she quit teaching reading, writing and arithmetic. She began teaching children instead. She paid particular attention to Sam, and as she began to work closely with him he began to change. The more encouragement she gave him, the more he responded. His mind snapped out of its torpor and once again became quick and alive. By the end of the school year, Sam had achieved among the highest marks in the class. And Mrs Evans was very proud of him indeed.
A year later, she found a note on her desk. It was from Sam saying she was the best teacher he’d ever had in his life – and thank you.
Seven years passed before she heard from Sam again. He wrote to say he’d finished secondary school, scored well enough in his exams to win a university place, and that she was still the best teacher he’d ever had.
Three years later, she got another letter. Sam said that things had been tough financially, but he’d seen it through, worked his way through college and was about to graduate with a first-class degree. And, by the way, she was still his best teacher ever.
Four more years elapsed, before Sam contacted her again. He explained that he’d decided to continue his studies after his first degree. She was still his favourite teacher, his name had grown a little longer. The letter was signed: Dr Samuel J. Stone, MA, PhD.
But that’s not the end of the story. In the spring another letter arrived. Sam wrote that he’d met a girl and they were going to be married. He said his father had died a few years back, and he was wondering whether Mrs Evans would be willing to sit at the wedding in the place usually reserved for the mother of the groom.
And that’s exactly what happened. And Mrs Evans wore that same imitation-diamond bracelet, with some of the stones missing, and she made sure she was wearing the same perfume that Sam remembered his mother wearing the last Christmas they were together.
After the ceremony, they hugged each other and Dr Stone whispered in Mrs Evans ear “Thank you so, so much for believing in me. Thank you for making feel I was worth something, and that I could make a difference”.
“Oh, no, Sam” she replied, “you have it so, so wrong”. You were the one who taught me. It was you who taught me that I could make a difference. I didn’t know how to teach until I met you”.
- So what’s this story saying to you as a teacher, parent or carer?
How can you begin to search below the surface of your children to find their deeper gifts?
- How can you look for, or acknowledge, the outside influences that may be affecting others you meet or come into contact with?
- How can you begin to see below the tips of other people’s iceberg?
- If Life is a learning experience how can you make sure you are enrolled on the course?
- The difference that makes the difference is often a very small one……. What can you do this week to make that small difference in the lives of those you love?
- How can you allow your children to be who they are – free from judgement or conforming to what you want them to be?
- How can you learn to not judge too soon?
- Who could you write to or phone to thank them for the difference they made in your life?
Here is a video of a true story of a teacher in New York called “Who I am makes a difference”