Mrs. Hopkins

There is a story many years ago of an elementary teacher. Her name was Mrs. Hopkins. And as she stood in front of her 5th grade class on the very first day of school, she told the children a lie. Like most teachers, she looked at her students and said that she loved them all the same. But that was impossible, because there in the front row, slumped in her seat, was a little girl named Polly Adams.

Mrs. Hopkins  had watched Polly the year before and noticed that she didn't play well with the other children, that her clothes were messy and that she constantly needed a bath. And Polly could be unpleasant. It got to the point where   Mrs.Hopkins would actually take delight in marking her  papers with a broad red pen, making bold X's and then putting  a big "F" at the top of her papers.

At the school where Mrs. Hopkins taught, she was required to review each child's past records and she put Polly’s off until last. However, when she reviewed her file, she was in for a surprise.

Polly 's first grade teacher wrote, " Polly is a bright child with a ready laugh. She does her work neatly and has good manners...she is a joy to be around, despite the fact that she does not have many friends and seems to have trouble sitting in her chair without falling out of it."

Her second grade teacher wrote, " While Polly is an excellent student, she is not well-liked by her classmates, and she is troubled when new situations arise and with organizing her work. Something at home must be wrong. There must be a struggle."

Her third grade teacher wrote, "Her mother is overly protective and while Polly tries to do her best, her mother and father don’t show the right kind of interest. This home life will soon affect her if some steps aren't taken. Math is very hard for Polly, and although she is willing to stay inside at recess to be with me and learn, she needs to be with the other children at recess."

Polly 's fourth grade teacher wrote, " Polly is withdrawn and doesn't show much interest in school. She doesn't have many friends and sometimes sleeps in class. Her handwriting needs great work and her coordination is well below grade level. Her frustration seems to be rising. She was tested for learning differences and was found to have a Nonverbal Learning Disability."

By now, Mrs. Hopkins realized the problem and she was ashamed of herself. She read everything she could in order to understand what some called NLD. She attended workshops and watched videos, went on the Internet and networked with others who knew more than she about this neurologically-based learning disorder.

As she began to catch on to Polly’s assets and deficits, she felt even worse when her students brought her Christmas presents, wrapped in beautiful ribbons and bright paper, except for Polly's. Her present was clumsily wrapped in the heavy, brown paper that she got from a grocery bag. Mrs. Hopkins 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 with a bright smile how pretty the bracelet was, putting it on, and dabbing some of the perfume on her wrist.

Polly Adams stayed after school that day just long enough to say, "Mrs. Hopkins thank you for respecting me and for not letting the kids make fun of me like they usually do. I know I’m different and sometimes I get so angry at myself but I don’t know what I do that’s so bad. All I want is to be accepted like everyone else "

After the children left Mrs. Hopkins felt truly sad. She cried for at least an hour. On that very day, she quit teaching reading, and writing, and arithmetic. Instead, she began to teach children. Mrs. Hopkins paid particular attention to Polly. As she worked with her, and encouraged the others to get to know Polly, the little girl’s mind seemed to come alive. The more Polly was understood, encouraged, and taught in the way she learned, the faster she responded. By the end of the year, Polly had become one of the smartest children in the class and, despite the teacher’s lie that she would love all the children the same, Polly became one of Mrs. Hopkins’ "teacher's pets."

A year later, she found a note under her door, from Polly, telling her that she was still the best teacher she ever had in her whole life.

Six years went by before she got another note from Polly. She then wrote that she had finished high school, third in her class, and Mrs. Hopkins was still the best teacher she ever had in her whole life.

Four years after that, the teacher received another letter, saying that while things had been tough many many times, Polly had stayed in school, had  stuck with it, and would soon graduate from college with the highest of honors. Polly assured Mrs. Hopkins that she was still the best and favorite teacher Polly ever had in her whole life.

Then four more years passed and yet another letter came. This time Polly explained that after she received her bachelor's degree, she decided to go a little further. The letter explained that Mrs. H. was still the best and favorite teacher she ever had. But now Polly’s name was a little longer. The letter was signed, Polly Adams, PhD.

The story doesn't end there. You see, there was yet another letter that spring. Polly said she'd met this boy and was going to be married. She explained that her father had died a couple of years before and she was wondering if Mrs. Hopkins might agree to sit with her mother in the place at the wedding that was usually reserved for the relatives. Of course, Mrs. Hopkins did. And guess what?

She wore that bracelet, the one with several rhinestones missing. And she made sure she was wearing the perfume that Polly had given her teacher way back in fifth grade. They hugged each other, and Dr. Adams whispered in Mrs. Hopkins' ear, "Thank you, Mrs. Hopkins, for believing in me. Thank you so much for making me feel important and showing me that I could make a difference."

Mrs. Hopkins, with tears in her eyes, whispered back. She said, " Polly, 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."