The Story of Pauly: Follow the Leader

The Story of Pauly Follow The Leader-01

There was screaming and yelling and then the door swung open.  A young girl came flying out of the building and the mom was giving chase.  The girl was screaming “I wanna go outside!”  My classroom was playing on the playground as I was hearing the girl rant and yell from inside the building.  I ran to the door, kneeled down, and blocked the little girl’s path.  The girl pushed against me, trying to knock me over (good luck!).  The little girl continued yelling, “Go outside! Go outside!”  Then the girl turned and looked up at me.  Fire was in her eyes.  This was how I met Pauly.

Pauly – short for Pauline – was a late addition to a classroom roster years ago.  Pauly and her mother were completing final bits of paperwork before, well, little warrior princess broke down the door.  Pauly would start the following week.

I talked with my assistant about how we were going to handle Pauly’s strong personality.  We hatched a “Good Cop, Bad Cop” plan.

This is how I anticipated the plan would go…

  • I would give a direction (classroom rule, routine, transition signal, etc.)
  • If Pauly was stubborn, she would challenge my authority
  • I would stand firm with my direction
  • Pauly would not like me and then demand her way
  • I would stand firm with my direction
  • She would be upset (like a volcano becomes upset) and would march off
  • My assistant teacher would be there to console her; because Pauly would obviously hate me at that moment.
  • Once Pauly would calm down, I would give her another opportunity to follow through and, if needed, with an incentive
  • When Pauly completes direction, reinforce with positive praise
  • Repeat for 2 months.

That was the plan.  It worked with other students; it would work with Pauly.

The first time I gave a direction – time to clean up –  Pauly refused and said “No.”  I stood by my direction.  She got upset, folded her arms and yelled at me.  Since English was not her first language, she yelled at me in a language I don’t understand.  I’m not sure what she said, but she was not happy.  Pretty sure she used some curse words (that’s what my assistant said).  Then Pauly sat by herself in the library, not wanting anyone’s help. Day one of the plan complete because, later in the day, she was back with the group, smiling and continuing with the classroom routine.  And the toys were cleaned up.

However, on the next day, things changed.

I asked Pauly to clean up the toys and get ready to go outside.  Pauly accepted my direction… with a smile…

…Uh-oh.  Does she have some kind of mischievous payback planned?  I wouldn’t put that past her.

I comeback to my senses and track her in the room.  Pauly goes around the room giving commands to the other children.  “Clean up!  Clean up!”  She starts using her home language and I assume she’s saying “Clean up!”  My jaw drops.  “That wasn’t part of the plan!” Like lemmings, the other children start listening to what she’s saying.  Pauly walks to me, stands in front of me, looks up, and beams with a big, tooth-filled smile.

I made a mini teacher me.  Pauly continued beaming her grin.

The behaviors continued over the next couple of days and weeks.  Pauly was the third teacher in the classroom.  I liked it because she was becoming a leader, but man she had some bite to her tone.  We had to teach her to dial it back some.  My assistant and I talked about what was happening and we could only come up with one conclusion: Pauly admired the power I had in the classroom, almost like “Wow, someone who is as powerful as I am!  I must learn from this Teacher Gilbert.”

Throughout the school year, Pauly learned to tone it down.  However, she also dominated my time in the classroom.  During meal times, if there was an empty seat at my table, then she wanted the seat.  While playing outside, she wanted to play with me first – like hide-and-go-seek or catch.  On field trips, no other child was allowed to hold my hand.  Pauly was attached to my hip.

By the end of the year, Pauly considered me a friend in class.  I had the grand plan that I would help Pauly learn that getting your way for everything didn’t mean yelling, screaming, or knocking people over.  And, in the end, Pauly did learn how to get her way – without the yelling, screaming and knocking people over.  She had made friends and I utilized her as a leader in the classroom.  She ended the year on a good note and was off to Kindergarten…

… which is too bad she didn’t have a second year because I still needed to work on that cussing.


The Story of Mariposa: 0.00962%

Mariposa and I sat at a table.  Between us are 12 cards, all face down, in a 3 x 4 grid.  We’re playing a game of Memory, the newest craze in our classroom.  There is a line of students waiting to play the winner.

“Mariposa, you go first,” I say.

Mariposa smiles, looks down, and turns over a card.  She reveals a picture of a red bubble.  Of the 11 cards left, only one other card is a red bubble.  Mariposa scans the cards.  She picks one.

“Wow! You got it.” I say.

Mariposa smiles, gathers both cards, and places them neatly in a pile next to her.

“Go again.” I say.

Mariposa is already looking at the cards.  She turns one over.  Blue bubble.  She scans, turns, and reveals the other blue bubble card.

“Woah! Two in a row.”  I say.  I pretend to make a pouty face.  Mariposa smiles.

“You’re funny Teacher Gilbert,” Mariposa says.

8 cards left.  Mariposa goes again.  Her hand hovers over the cards.  She turns over two cards, quickly matching the green bubbles. I’m stunned.  I spent 30 seconds mixing the cards before setting up the grid.  Mariposa is laughing.  I make a pouty face and encourage her to go again.

6 cards left.  The smile has not left her face.  She is on fire and, as little as she is, she knows it.  She starts to do a little wiggle dance in her chair.  I can hear her humming a happy tune.  Her hand turns over one card and then another.  Both of them are yellow bubbles.

She’s going to do it… she could win the game in one shot.

4 cards left; pairs of black bubbles and orange bubbles.  Mariposa is beating the odds like crazy.

She looks over the cards, turns one over.  Black bubble.  At this point, she has a 1/3 chance of getting the correct card.  She looks them over. 

She turns over a card….. black bubble.

“Omigosh,” I say.

She puts the pair of black bubbles in her winning pile.  Leaving only two pairs left, the lone orange bubbles.  Mariposa, happy with delight, quickly turns over both cards, stacks them, and puts them in her pile.

Mariposa wins: 12 – 0

I was stunned.  She got all six pairs on one turn.  I turned to my co-teacher.  “Jenny, she got them all right on the first try.”  I would have been amazed if anybody had done what Mariposa just did.

At the end of the day, I’m relaxing at home with my wife.  I tell her what happened with the memory game.

“I’m just thinking, what are the odds of that happening?” I say to Kaitlyn. So, I go online, ask a question on Yahoo, and get a response.

The odds of Mariposa getting six pairs in a row on the first try is 1/10395

“What!!!  Omigosh!!!” I say in my head.

If you want percentage, then the percent chance of Mariposa pulling off her feat is 0.00962%


I got goosebumps.  I called over to Kaitlyn and told her the odds.  She was just as stunned.  It was an amazing feat.  This just goes to show you that you never know how a small child will amaze you.  I was amazed when I saw it happen and appreciated the feat more when I discovered the odds.

The link below is to the yahoo question I posted.  Read the response.  I’m sure you’ll be floored too.;_ylt=AvW4fYp8TJ8qw0nTAmFxnkXsy6IX;_ylv=3?qid=20130122150608AAIvMtR

And, if you would like to play the bubble game yourself, here’s a link to the pdf file.  Enjoy.

The Story of Ikira: Eat! Stop! Scream!

Even as a seed, teachers must grow the goodness in the child.

Ikira loved to eat. He could be an Olympian for eating.  During meals, he positioned his body for maximum consumption.  He would get his face low, aligning his lips with the edge of the plate.  His fork was a food shovel.  Food would go into his mouth like ocean waves crashing into the rocks.  Most of the food made it inside.  The rest splattered across his face.

It was like animal planet… only real.

He wasn’t obese, but he was a hefty child.  When other children had one or two servings of food, he was finishing his fifth and wanting more.  I’m like “I can’t even eat that much and I’m grown man!” I talked with his parents about his eating habits and they were concerned.  So, behind closed doors, we hatched a plan…

…only two servings of food.  Yikes!

At the first meal time, we had chicken nuggets.  Ikira had already demolished seven, and was ready for more.  I prepared my words, looked him firmly (scared on the inside) into his eyes and said, “No more Ikira.”

The room fell silent.

Ikira continued looking at me earnestly. He didn’t hear me.  Oh man. I took a breath.  “No more Ikira.  That’s enough food.”  Now the message hit.

Immediately, Ikira’s eyes and face clenched in anger.  “Brace yourself!” I thought.  He placed his hands on the table and pushed his chair back three feet, slamming the shelf behind him.  “Stay calm.” I kept thinking. He crawled down to the floor and under the table and belted out a piercing scream.  Children and teachers covered their ears.  “This is going to take time” I thought.

For a month, Ikira kept pushing, crawling and screaming.  It was almost routine.  “Stay calm. Stay positive”  I kept saying to myself.  I would look under the table and say to Ikira,“I know you’re mad and you want more food.  We can eat again at snack time.” The words changed, but the message was the same: positive.

Then… one day… “No more Ikira.”  Bam!  Chair hits the shelf and Ikira is under the table. “Stay calm. Stay positive” Children and teachers cover their ears.  “Brace yourself!”

Wait for it…

…wait for it



I look around.  Everyone is looking around.  What’s going on?

Throughout this entire story, some people may have scolded Ikira for going under the table.  They would have given a punishment for pushing the table and slamming the shelves.  But, I didn’t get mad.  I didn’t punish him.  I kept feeding him kind words. I kept my emotions in check.  I kept patient.  I thought about my training as a teacher; my knowledge as a teacher.  Look for the good.

There was silence.  And, as clear as day, I saw a teaching moment…

I said, “Boys and girls, I’m proud of Ikira.”

Huh? Really? Everyone looked at me astonished.  Even Ikira peeked up from under the table. “What?”

“I’m proud of Ikira.  He pushed the table, yes.  He hit the chair against the shelf, yes.  And he is under the table.  But, he is not screaming.  He’s learning.  I’m proud of him.”  I look under the table.  “I’m proud of you for not screaming.  I would really like it if he would join and finish eating with us.”

Ikira looked at me.  My praising words melting his frustration.  His face softened.  He smiled, got up, and finished the meal with us.  A month later, I praised him the first time he didn’t crawl under table.  A month after that, I praised him the first time he didn’t push his chair back into the shelf.  And, five months when this whole thing started, I gave him the biggest praise the first time when he simply folded his arms and showed an angry face.  He had learned a new skill.

People, this is learning.

Emotions, and how we handle them, is crucial for preschool teachers to teach their students.  There were times when Ikira didn’t have an outburst, but it took five months before I could comfortably say that he had learned a new skill. Teachers need a keen eye for observation to weed out that teachable moment amongst all the chaos.

Look for the good.

The Story of Bobby

There are so many great stories from my classroom: the Story of Mariposa and how she beat the odds, the story of Jorge and Jesus and their friendship til the end.  There are others which I’ve yet to name.  But, one of the first stories I shared from my classroom was The Story of Bobby.

A preschool teacher writes observations on a daily basis.  I write about children’s language abilities, cognitive thinking, physical development and social-emotional skills.  These notes are taken throughout the school year and, when you put them all together, you have a chronological storyline of how a child learns and grows.

The following are string of observations on a child named Bobby, and his journey to speak…

Bobby and his Mom enters class and I speak to him for the first time.
Teacher: “Good morning Bobby”
Bobby: blank stare at teacher and not a word
Teacher: “Good morning?”
Bobby: blank stare
Teacher: “Hi?”
Bobby: blank stare
Mom: “He’s a little nervous”
Teacher: “Yeh, I see” looking down at Bobby “We’re going to have a lot of fun this year”
Bobby: blank stare

Bobby enters the room smiling
Teacher: “Good morning Bobby ”
Bobby: smiling, extends his hand with a blue train and says “Thomas!”
Teacher: “Is that your train?”
Bobby: “Thomas!” and extends both arms in the air.
Mom: “It’s his favorite toy.”
Teacher: “Oh..” looking at Bobby “Is that the name of the train?”
Bobby: “Thomas!”
Teacher: looking at mom “Well, at least he’s talking”

Teacher: “Good morning Bobby.”
Bobby: “Avocados!”
Teacher: “huh?”
Bobby: “Avocados!”
Mom: “It’s his new word”
Teacher: “Oh” then looking at Bobby “Do you like avocados?”
Bobby: “Avocados!”
Teacher: “Would you like to sign your name?”
Bobby: “Avocados!”
Teacher: “All the kids are signing their names in the morning.  Do you want to try?”
Bobby: “What?”
Teacher: “Sign your name?”
Bobby: “What?”
Teacher: (reluctantly) “You can go play.”
Bobby: walks away with both arms in the air “Avocados!”

Students are playing outside
Teacher: “Bobby, come here.”
Bobby: Runs to the teacher smiling
Teacher: “What’s your word today.”
Bobby: “Chocolate”
Teacher: (surprised) “Really?’
Bobby: raising both hands in the air “Chocolate!!!”
Teacher: “Okay” and yelling to the rest of the class “Boys and girls, say chocolate!!!” And from every corner of the playground, 15 little boys and girls shout loudly “Chocolate!!!”
Bobby: smiles and then continues to play

Teacher walking around classroom while kids play.  Teacher reviews sign in sheet and Bobby has not signed in.
Teacher: “Bobby, you didn’t sign your name.”
Bobby: “What?”
Teacher: “Do you want to sign your name?”
Bobby: “No.”
Teacher: “Why?”
Bobby: “What?”
Teacher: “You don’t want to sign your name?”
Bobby: “No.”
Teacher: “Okay, but I’d like you to try.”

Bobby walks into the classroom smiling
Bobby: Extends his hand “Thomas”
Teacher: “Cool.”
Bobby: reaches into pocket and pulls out a green train “Percy.”
Teacher: (awestruck) “….wow”
Bobby: reaches into pocket and pulls out a black train “Hiro.”
Teacher: (still awestruck) “Cool, Bobby.  You’re trains are cool.”
Bobby: walks over to the table and begins playing with his friends

Teacher walking around classroom while kids play.  Teacher reviews sign in sheet and Bobby has not signed in.
Teacher: “Bobby, you didn’t sign your name.”
Bobby: “What?”
Teacher: “Do you want to sign your name?”
Bobby: “No.”
Teacher: “Why?”
Bobby: looking at teacher “I’m playing cars.”
Teacher: taken aback “Oh… well, when you’re done, I’d like you to sign your name.”
Bobby: “Okay.” And he continues playing cars. Afterwards, he cleans up the cars, puts them back on the shelf and lines up with the other students to go play outside.

Teacher notices Bobby playing in the Dramatic Play Area
Teacher: “Hey Bobby.  What are you doing?”
Bobby: “I’m playing.”
Teacher: “What are you playing?”
Bobby: “Kitchen.”
Teacher: “Cool.”
Bobby: “Uh-Oh! Telephone.” runs and grabs a toy phone
Teacher: “I’ll grab my phone.” And grabs a cell phone out of his pocket
Bobby: talking into pretend phone “…hello?”
Teacher: talking into cell phone “Hello.”
Bobby: thinking… “…Happy birthday.”
Teacher: “Thank you.”
Bobby: “…Good-bye.”
Teacher: “…Good-bye.”
Teacher and Bobby put away phones.
The notes end here.

For many of my students, I will be their first public education teacher, a respect that I consider a privilege and responsibility.   Like all of my students, Bobby’s story continues outside of my classroom, even right now as I’m typing.  I truly wish him all the best, and I love hearing about how he is doing from his mother…

…I’m getting all teary-eyed.  I’m getting some coffee.