October 2, 2014 1:57 pm The Competitives Part 2
Becky was happy that her new classroom was sunny and the staff was so friendly. She did have butterflies and yet she knew once her job actually began, she’d feel calmer. On the Sunday night before the first day of school, her clothes were already out for the next day and she had packed her lunch. She decided to go back over her class list to become familiar with the names of the children and their parents. She suddenly realized that one of the stone skipping, fiercely competitive children from the park was in her class.
“Derek Muller; parents, Fran and Bill,” she said out loud. “How did I miss that? Ugh!”
It was a short night. Becky woke up well before her alarm went off and left for school an hour before the children were to arrive. Walking up the beautiful old steps of the school, Becky felt excited to be starting this brand new time in her life.
“Hi Becky!” Mary, one of the experienced teachers called to her.
“Mary, hi. Nice to see you.”
“Good weekend?” Mary asked.
“So nice. My little place feels homey to me. I can’t wait for you to come over.”
Reaching the door of her room, Becky felt better already. The high ceilings made the room feel so beautiful and spacious. The long windows were letting in lots of the early daylight.
A few minutes later, a little boy ran into the room. “Beat you. YES!” he shouted over his shoulder.
“Yeah, you did. I stink as a runner.” A blond boy agreed.
“You stink at everything, James.”
Becky walked over. “Hi boys, I am Miss MacDougall. I look forward to getting to know you.”
James smiled gently but Derek didn’t look at his new teacher.
“Boys, feel free to look around the classroom. You may find a desk that you like as well.”
The boys’ mothers followed them in, and Becky introduced herself.
Fran immediately pulled Becky aside. “Derek was in the top of his nursery school class so he’s ready for advanced work. I was thinking of asking if he could move to first grade but it’s always better for sports that he be bigger and older in his grade. Let’s give him a chance at being a phenom.” She turned and left.
“James, I hope you have a great day. I’ll be thinking of you. Bye sweetheart.”
James said uncertainly, “Bye, Mommy.”
Becky put her arm around James as he waved goodbye to his mother.
Other children and parents began to fill the room. Farewells and greetings blurred together. Some children were at desks. Others were looking at the science and math centers. James helped to pass out white paper. He was cheering up.
“Good morning children,” said Becky. “Please, everyone find a seat.”
Derek ran to a seat but Billy was already in it. “Out! That’s where I want to sit.”
Becky intervened. “Derek, Billy has been there since his father left. That’s his seat.”
“I want that one,” Derek insisted. “Billy can sit somewhere else.”
The children were silent. Becky calmly walked over, took Derek by the shoulders and guided him to another seat. “Here you go, Derek. This is your seat.”
Derek threw himself on the floor. Becky ignored him. Walking to the front of the room, she said, “Hello children. I am Miss MacDougall. I am happy to be your teacher. I know we will learn a lot and have fun too.”
After taking attendance, Becky showed the children around the room. They were curious and happy. Derek stayed in the chair, not joining the little tour.
“Please find your seats,” Becky told them. “On the paper James gave you, please draw something about yourself that you would like to share with me. I’ll give you some crayons.”
Beach scenes, pets, favorite foods were carefully drawn. Some children wrote a word or two. They filed up to Becky’s desk and she looked at each drawing with care.
“Emily, a fish named Gus. How wonderful.”
“Sammy, what a perfect chocolate chip cookie.”
James handed his drawing to Becky shyly. “It’s my Mommy.”
“James, it looks just like her.” James grinned with sheer delight.
Derek was not drawing or writing. After Becky had seen the children’s work, she said, “It’s such a beautiful day. Let’s go out for a while. Derek, will you turn out the lights for us?”
Derek flicked the lights on and off, but finally did his little job.
Becky liked the feeling of her class. Girls were singing as they pumped like mad on the swings. James and Charlie were following a few chipmunks. Then Jenny slid off the slide and Derek laughed.
“It’s my new dress.” Jenny cried as she ran to Becky. “I’m all dirty.”
“What a baby,” Derek hooted. “Your dress doesn’t look new anyway.”
Becky comforted Jenny and sent her in to wash her hands. “Your mommy will wash it and it will be fine.”
Then she turned to Derek. “Please come to me.” He stood still, glowering. “Derek, I will not chase you. I want you to come up now.”
Several children looked at Derek as he blatantly defied their new teacher. Just then, Mary came out with her class. “May I help you Becky?”
“Yes, thank you. Somebody is being really defiant. I have to go talk to him.”
Derek was hiding behind an overgrown bush when Becky grabbed his sleeve. He tried to squirm away.
“You have to stop this, Derek. This is our first day together. Let’s start over.” She gripped his hand tightly and called for the others to return to the classroom. Once inside, she asked them to sit on the rug.
“Children, I already feel that we will have a great year together. I need your help, though. Everyone’s help.” Becky could tell that Derek was listening.
“The only way we can learn lots of great things and feel happy is if we are good to one another. Each person will affect this year in powerful ways. If you choose to damage the feeling of the class, you will be asked to leave. I am asking you to be kind to one another. Do you think you can be?”
Sixteen voices said, “Yes!” Derek said nothing. He looked down at his feet.
“Derek, you were mean a few times, but I know you can change if you want to,” Becky told him quietly.
Derek nodded, sitting with his head in his hands. Just then Fran appeared at the door. “I knew it. He’s bored. What a waste. I have to get him into first grade.”
Derek, watching his mother, didn’t make a move or say a thing.
James turned to Mrs. Muller. “Please don’t take Derek to first grade. He’ll be nice.”
Jenny chimed in. “We’re just getting to know each other. Please let him stay.”
Fran moved close to Becky. “I’m sure these are nice children, but they’re babies.”
Derek got up from his spot on the rug and walked slowly but assuredly to his mother. “Mom, I’ll stay here. I like this class.”
“Derek, you haven’t even seen the first grade room. You’ll love being challenged. You’ll be reading by Halloween!”
“I feel like I can get nicer here. I can still be fast, Mom. I don’t care about being first all the time. I can make some friends.”
“Since when are friends more important than being the best? Besides, you’ll make friends in first grade. You’ll be a leader.”
“Mrs. Muller, I think Derek will be a real leader in this class if you give it a chance,” Becky told her.
At lunch, the kindergarteners had their own tables. James and Jenny asked Derek to sit next to them. He did in a second. Charlie and other children sat with them too.
Derek breathed in deeply and said, “Jenny, I’m sorry you slid off the swing. I wish I hadn’t laughed. I’m glad your dress is okay. James, I don’t want to race anymore.”
James smiled and said, “Miss MacDougall wants to help us all. I really like her. She knows how to teach stuff.”
“Yes, she does,” Derek said thoughtfully. “Maybe she can help teach my mother.”
Written by: Anne Martine Cook, Managing Partner & Mom, with 35+ years experience teaching nursery school children.
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