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The little boy: A story for the teacher in all of us

This story was inspired by the work of the late Patrick Whitaker, a wonderful educator; Sara Stanley, an inspirational early-years practitioner; and renowned American kindergarten teacher Vivian Paley, now retired. 

375aOnce there was a little boy who started school. Each day his teacher would tell him stories. He loved the stories – stories about dragons and princes, about giants and hyenas, witches and fairies. Stories about goodies and baddies, about brave people and cowardly people, about greedy people and generous people. Stories of love and hate, jealousy and cruelty, friendship and loyalty. His imagination was full of places and events, of people and animals that crept into his dreams and his games.

Every morning he looked forward to arriving at school because the teacher would ask him to choose where to put his name card ­– would he choose a witch or a dragon, a castle or a ship? And each day he would think about it and put his name card beside his choice and the teacher would ask him, “Why do you like dragons (or castles) best?” He would think about his answer and tell her. He learnt to give reasons for his choices.

Then the teacher would ask all the children to sit on the mat and talk about their choices. He liked hearing the ideas of the other children and sometimes, after he had listened to them, he changed his mind and made a different choice. All together they would think of ideas for stories and then he would go and play the stories. He would dress up and play being the monster or the hero. He would take small figures of dragons or witches and create a story.

Then one day the teacher set up a storytelling table and said anyone who wanted to tell her a story could come to the table and she would write down the story. The little boy was excited – he had lots of ideas for stories, so he went to the table and he told the teacher a story and she wrote it down. His story had a dinosaur, a boy and a firefighter – it wove together ideas from all the stories he had heard and played. The next day the teacher read his story to the class and invited the children to act it out as she read it again. And the little boy looked at his words and was happy. He liked acting out his story with others in his class.

The next year, the little boy moved to a new grade and a new teacher. This teacher didn't ask him to make any choices at the beginning of the day. She just read out the names from the register and asked him to listen for his name and say, “Yes, Miss Jones!” when he heard it. He missed his old teacher and wondered what the children in her class were doing.

Then his new teacher said, “Today I have new books for you to read.” The little boy was excited. He loved to hear stories and was eager to see the new books. The teacher gave him his reading book. It didn't look very exciting. Then she slowly read the book to him. It didn't have many words and the teacher stopped to sound out the letters in the words. It wasn't a story like he had had before where he could imagine himself as a king or a big bad wolf. The little boy was disappointed. He missed the stories from his old classroom.

Then one day the new teacher said, “Today we're going to write a story.”

“Oh good!” thought the little boy. He loved to write stories. He picked up a pencil and began to draw his story.

“Wait,” said the teacher. “I haven't told you what to do yet.” The little boy was full of ideas, but he stopped what he was doing and listened to the teacher. The teacher gave out a sheet of paper with pictures on it. She told the children to look at the pictures and write the words to make the story.

The little boy looked at the pictures. They showed a boy walking along the road to the shop to buy something. He didn't like this story. His mind was full of tales of pirates and treasure, but the teacher didn't ask him about his ideas. The little boy wondered why they all had to write the same story, but he didn’t say anything. He sat there and looked at the pictures, but he didn't want to write the story.

And pretty soon the little boy stopped telling his own stories and learnt to do what the teacher told him to do.  He stopped looking forward to having his stories written down for him. He forgot how he loved to listen to stories and act out his stories with his friends. Instead, he got used to reading the reading books that his teacher gave him and he only wrote what the teacher told him to write about.

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