She wasn’t “just” a teacher. Not Mrs. Lansing. Not to Jeremy.
Jeremy had started the fifth grade with a bad mood. His parents had split and because of their having moved around as the marriage crumbled, he’d lost a year of schooling. So here he was, thirteen in a world of twelve. Not a problem, really, except that old Mr. Hatcher, the stupid school’s stupid principal, had told everybody Jeremy’s age the first day.
The first week went by in an angry blur, with Jeremy lashing out at any student who tried to talk to him. They gave up quickly and their ignoring him made him lash out against the only other target in the classroom: Mrs. Lansing. The first outburst made her blink, then say in a soft voice “I expect better from you.” Jeremy crossed his arms and snorted, slumping into his desk.
The next day, Mrs. Lansing asked Jeremy to read aloud and he refused. When Mrs. Lansing insisted, Jeremy erupted. “I don’t wanna read a stupid book to anyone!” he shouted. Mrs. Lansing carefully placed her book on her desk and told Jeremy to meet her after school let out.
As the kids rushed out, free at last, Jeremy sat at Mrs. Lansing’s desk, his body a tight fist. She began to speak, quietly, clearly and though later Jeremy couldn’t remember the words, he could never forget their impact. Mrs. Lansing believed in him, expected great things from him and wanted Jeremy to achieve them all. Yes, life could be a mess of problems, but facing up to them with a proper attitude would always make a positive difference. She made Jeremy a believer and from that day forward, Jeremy devoted every minute to living up to Mrs. Lansing’s expectations.
Jeremy couldn’t wait to get to school and sit off to the side, his eyes riveted on Mrs. Lansing as she discussed the Greeks, fractions, subordinate clauses or entropy. As the weeks went by, his dedication to being the Jeremy he believed he could be started paying off. He would raise his hand more and more often until there came a time when he was raising his hand at every one of Mrs. Lansing’s questions. She would smile to see his eagerness and the day she said “I know you know the answer, Jeremy, but let’s let someone else have a chance,” was the day Jeremy walked home on air.
The year went by so fast—Halloween, Christmas, Spring Break—and Jeremy couldn’t believe it. He didn’t want school to end. A surge of fear spiked through him. But in that fear, he forged an idea: He’d give Mrs. Lansing a gift. The following days were filled with work and searches, work to add money to his savings and searches for the perfect gift. Jeremy spent hours looking at everything, then narrowed his choice to the perfect one: A pearl pendant necklace. It was expensive, but Jeremy was thrilled to afford it.
A few days before the best school year ever ended, Jeremy waited until the class had rushed out at day’s end. Shyly, nervous beyond belief, he approached Mrs. Lansing. Her clear green eyes smiled at him, then sombered as he struggled to speak. Flustered, he barely croaked out “I…bought something…for you. To, uh, thank you. Ma’am.” Stiffly, he held out the gift..
With the brilliant smile he loved, she took the brightly-wrapped box and exclaimed “Thank you, Jeremy! And today’s my anniversary, even!” As she bent over to open the gift, Jeremy suddenly saw something that made his blood run cold: Mrs. Lansing was wearing the same pearl pendant he’d bought!
Mrs. Lansing opened the box and looked at the gift. Jeremy’s face was red and his back slick with sweat. He felt nauseous and wanted to crawl away and hide. Mrs. Lansing set the box down, took off the pendant she was wearing and put on Jeremy’s, placing the one she took off in the box. She smiled at Jeremy and held out her arms. He stepped into them for her hug. Holding him by the shoulders, she smiled again and said “I’ll always wear this one and it will be our secret.” Jeremy’s heart soared. “Now please, return this and use the money to buy yourself as wonderful a gift as you’ve given me. And thank you for being so nice to me.”
On his way home, gift tucked carefully in a pocket, Jeremy couldn’t figure out why he was smiling so hard with tears in his eyes.