- by Holly
- This gifted
first grade teacher lost her job at the end of the school year in
which this article was written! Are we Americans hopelessly
- It was the middle
of the 1992-1993 school year at Prairie View Elementary School
when I first saw her. I knew it would be difficult for her to be
accepted by her peers. She was very short, about five inches
shorter than the others. Her eyes were crossed and her eyebrows
were too thin. It was obvious that her dress was old from the
several patches. Her nose was so incredible. It was very long,
with a wart on the end. She had a horrible profile because of the
nose. Her hair was long and stringy. She had freckles, Also, I
soon found out that she had eleven toes - six on one
- When I learned that
I was going to get a special needs student, I did the usual things
that need to be done to have a new student added. I had a special
small desk brought in the room and a tall chair to accompany it. I
made out her name tag and wrote her name in my attendance
- The Monday that she
arrived was a cold and windy day. Madalyne was the first one
there, beating the morning bell by almost ten minutes. I helped
her put her supplies away and gave her a crayon so she could start
her morning work. But, she did not get far before the bell rang
and the other students entered the room.
- I went to the chalk
board and began writing the date and some notes for the students
to read. While my back was to the class, I suddenly heard a lot of
laughter. I heard someone yell, "Miss Engel, what is she doing
- I turned to see six
or seven children surrounding Madalyne. One was pulling her hair.
One was pinching her nose. The rest were laughing and pointing. I
was shocked to see this. "What are you doing to Madalyne? You
leave her alone! She is a new friend in our class." I was very
upset and went to see if Madalyne was all right. The other
students sat down and began their morning work, buzzing about the
new, odd student.
- After the Pledge of
Allegiance and the National Anthem, I decided it was time to
introduce Madalyne formally to the class. She had been stared at
and whispered about for long enough.
- I rang my brass
apple bell to get the attention of the class. As I stood behind
Madalyne's chair with my hands on her shoulders, the class grew
very quiet. The first graders were very still.
- I cleared my
throat. "We have a new friend. This is Madalyne Wimple. She will
need a lot of help getting used to our school and classroom. I
hope you all will be a good friend to her." I heard a few kids
- Over the next
months, the class helped Madalyne in many ways. Sometimes she fell
out of her chair. A child would carefully pick her up and put her
back in the chair. Madalyne would fall asleep in class, too! This
stunned the class. Of course, they would look towards me for a
reaction. I would calmly ask someone to wake her up. The child did
so very gently. The child would give Madalyne her pencil and show
her where we were on the page.
- Madalyne was
assimilated into our class easily. The counselors and other
teachers would go out of their way to greet Madalyne. Some would
even have to explain to wondering visitors that Madalyne "was part
of Miss Engel's class."
- Since we did a lot
of cooperative learning and buddy work, Madalyne often was chosen
as a buddy. It was both intriguing and touching to see the first
graders so hard at work with a buddy that seemingly had so little
to offer to the task. After all, she was a "special needs" student
and needed a lot of help with even sitting at her desk. But the
stories that she and her buddy wrote would bring tears to my
- When a child chose
Madalyne to partner work, that child felt free to be creative, be
different from the way the class viewed him/her. The class clown
became a serious adventure writer with Madalyne's help. The shy,
quiet child was able to read her and Madalyne's story in front of
an audience with Madalyne's help. A boy who was hyperactive became
subdued, somber and physically still while working with
- Difficult times at
home often plague any classroom in this day and age. Some children
act disrespectful, rude, and have deviant behavior as a result of
this. Some young children be-come painfully shy and quiet. The
children do not understand the fighting, financial problems,
divorce, and even drug, alcohol and physical abuse that may plague
an unstable home. To live in and deal with this is an awful lot to
ask a child of six or seven. Kids know that things are not calm at
home. They know it does not feel good and safe at home. But to
verbally express these thoughts and feelings is almost an
- I was surprised at
the times when Madalyne would be dearest to a child. The neediest,
most stressed child would often read to Madalyne, buddy work with
her, help her to our special class, and make sure she was sitting
up straight in her chair. As I walked around the classroom to
check on-task behavior and progress on a project, I noticed that
the upset child would be holding Madalyne's hand. Some would even
carry Madalyne to my desk and softly say, "Madalyne is sad. She is
worried that her parents are going to get a divorce." Or a child
would tell me that Madalyne is tired because she had to dance last
night from 7:00 to 10:00. Madalyne would also feel sad that her
mom was going out of town on business.
- Madalyne also had
physical needs. She would need to go to the bathroom, according to
her helper. Sometimes her shoes were too small and she would need
to take them off. Sometimes she might just need a big hug from me,
along with her friend.
- It was surprising
to me that the children used Madalyne as a voice to express the
hurtful and scary parts of their lives. At one time or another,
each child in my class expressed their feelings through Madalyne.
Without embarrassment, children told me of Madalyne's weekend
fights with her brother and sister and how she hates her daycare
- I felt extremely
lucky that my small class had the ability to express the hurt they
felt. Many people who had a difficult childhood grow up to be
difficult adults. Usually, adults with problems need a doctor to
help them sift back through the past in order to remember and
express hard times when they were very young.
- I think my class,
with Madalyne's help, will be healthier and happier as they grow.
They were able to use Madalyne's "tough times at home" to cleanse
themselves of the guilt, fear, and pain associated with growing up
in the midst of an unstable home, and an ever-changing
- One day, during her
first week at school, Madalyne was extremely late. We were all
very concerned. Was she lost? Was she sick? Did anyone see her in
the cafeteria getting breakfast? The class was so concerned that I
promised I would call Mrs. Wimple at recess to solve the
- The students were
so concerned about Madalyne that the first lesson was not a big
success. Everyone stared at the door and at Madalyne's seat. I was
working along through my lesson plan about Clifford, the Big Red
Dog, when there was a knock on the door. All of the boys' and
girls' eyes widened with excitement. The door slowly opened. In
came Madalyne and Mrs. McKee, our neighbor across the
- "Madalyne! Where
have you been?" asked one student. Another student ran over to
help Madalyne to her seat. Expressions of great relief were
written across every small face in my class.
- Mrs. McKee
explained that Madalyne had gotten lost and one of her students
helped Madalyne back to the classroom.
- I asked the kids to
describe how Madalyne looks. At first, they did not want to talk
about it. I gently prodded. "What about her dress?" I
- "It is a pretty
color of purple," answered a student.
- "What about her
nose?" I asked. The room was silent. "Do you like her hair? Would
anyone in here want to have Madalyne's hair?" Several kids
squirmed. No one made eye contact with me.
- I tried again at a
different angle. "Now really, is she that pretty? Personally, I
think her feet are too big." I wrote my idea about Madalyne on the
chart paper I had on the chalk board. I solicited new
- "Well, her nose is
kind of big. But that makes it easier to smell things with," came
the first reply.
- "Her eyes are
crossed, but I think that glasses would fix that."
- "Her dress has
patches, but it is a pretty color."
- Many hands were in
the air now. The boys and girls gave words or sentences to
describe Madalyne's physical appearance. Curiously, each item
about her ugly physique was defended.
- Soon our chart was
full. I asked the kids why it was so hard to fill the chart paper.
They explained to me that Madalyne was a good friend, she liked to
be read to, she smiles all the time, and she is nice. One by one
came the exact responses I had desired: descriptions of Madalyne's
personality and character that made her so lovable.
- In closing the
lesson, I explained that in life, there are many people that may
look odd or different. There are many people who have various
beliefs and ways of life. I instructed the children to remember
Madalyne when they meet these people. Think about how ugly
Madalyne was on the outside, and how wonderful she is on the
- Madalyne was
invited back into the room, and we proceeded with our day.
Madalyne was more popular than ever. There was no fear of peer
pressure or teasing that often follows an oddball student. The
rest of the school unfortunately did not know Madalyne. They did
not know how sweet she was and what a wonderful friend she
- The students in my
class would have to endure a lot of teasing, laughing, hurtful
comments about Madalyne. She was ugly, funny-looking, dirty, poor.
But my students were very strong, and they stood up to the big
kids who laughed and pointed. My kids would hug Madalyne tighter
to their chest. Some even plugged her ears as rude comments were
thrown our direction.
- You see, Madalyne
was not only a very special student with a lot of needs, she was a
doll. A doll that I had specially made for a lesson on "don't
judge a book by its cover." This lesson grew and bloomed into an
incredible five months. I learned about how children think and
act. The students learned about vicious bullies.
- We all learned
about what love really is. For the love we had for Madalyne was so
strong, it inspired us all. Madalyne was definitely the most
popular girl in the class.
- This is to pass on
some of that love. This is the story of Madalyne, the most popular
girl in the class.
- Thus, the time had
come for some lessons that could not be learned from a book. These
lessons were on life, friends, honesty, trust, and right versus
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