I am the King of the Four Year Olds!

by Roberto Reggio in Hawaii – USA

Roberto Reggio, a veteran male early educator drowned under a full moon off Kahala Beach in Hawaii on May 7, 2009.

He was creative, committed, and passionate about the impact he was able to have as a teacher of young children, as a musician, and as a presenter in professional settings. Among his many contributions, Roberto helped to plan, presented at, and wrote about the HAEYC Men in Education Network (M.E.N.) Retreats.

Hawaii Men’s Retreat

Hawaii Men’s Retreat 2006

A celebration of his life held on the lawn at the University of Hawaii at Manoa Children’s Center on June 7, 2009 included pictures, live music, poetry, letters, families, colleagues, and tiny children climbing about in blossoming plumeria trees. Attached is a letter he wrote that was read aloud by his friend Harriet Chichester at his memorial service. We all felt it captured his voice and his perspective as a teacher of young children.

He will be sorely missed.

For ten years before I came to Hawaii, I taught four and five year olds. Then, when I arrived here I got a job as an assistant teacher in a class of four year olds. I know four year olds. I am the magician of the four year old class. I can astound them. I can confound them. I can command their attention. I am the alchemist that melds their will to my desire. I rule the four year olds!

Therefore, when I received my Child Development Associate (C.D.A.) Certificate that enabled me to be a full time pre-school teacher in Hawaii I had no problem when the head of Rainbow School came to me and said, “Congratulations Roberto, we are making you the full time teacher on the three year old room.” Three year olds. Ha! I can do four year olds! Three year olds are nothing to me. Only that’s not the way they saw it. As a matter of fact, I am not really certain if they saw it or me for that matter. For they are in their own immediate experiential world in which every new stimulus is a cause for wonder, observation, time, and attention. Roberto wants us to clean up. Wow, look at this interesting piece of lint. Roberto wants us to line up. Look guys, I found a worm! And so, day after day, I watched my ego eroding, my professional credentials crumbling. I was not the king; not the magician. I was a more like a cork floating aimlessly on a sea of three year old will, and there were times when I was definitely under water.

I arrive at school at seven a.m. We eat breakfast, and play outside until nine a.m. Then we go inside. For the first week when it was time to go inside, I tried with limited success to get the children to line up and follow me in. But they would not pay attention to my commands… I cajoled; I threatened; I ordered; I yelled; I spoke in dulcet tones; I pleaded… usually I could get about three quarters of them to follow me inside…then I’d have to run outside and rustle up the other quarter like some plains cowboy of search of missing steer. How embarrassing. How humiliating, and how much fun for them. They loved it! It didn’t mean (a thing) to them that I am a symbol of authority. They just wanted to see the cowboy chase em. As is the sad history of our world, dear reader, the meek do not inherit the earth. Eventually I got them all inside.
The three year old class is the called the Geckos, a good Hawaii name as there are lots of geckos here. Now in the second week I was determined to change my strategy and not repeat my humiliation, so when it came time to go inside I got down on all fours and announced a “Gecko Parade”! To my surprise they all lined up behind me on all fours, and obediently followed me into the school. As we were crawling through the school the Head of the School happened to open a door and almost stepped on me. I looked up meekly and said, “Well Catherine, if you can’t beat them, you must join them!” It went on like this for two weeks, when I happened to be at home listening to Art Blakey and Jazz Messingers playing my favorite album, Blue Note 4003, with (songs like) Moanin, Drum Thunder Suite, Along Came Betty; Blues March. It’s an album I first heard when I was fourteen years old, and Blakey’s drumming has been an inspiration to me ever since. Well, it was while listening to Blues March that is suddenly came to me that this tune was what I needed to arm myself with in my daily battle of wills. So, that Monday morning I arrived with a tape of Blues March and a good cassette machine with batteries. I announced “Gecko Parade”, and did not say another word; rather, I let Blakey speak for me. I turned the machine on and his crisp snare drum resounded.

“BURRUMP A DUM, BURRUMP A DUM, BURRUMP A DUM BA BUM BUM KA CHONG!” Magically they all lined up and we marched. All around the playground; we marched over things; we marched under things; my little Geckos and I. I turned and looked at them and was greeted by a sea of smiling faces: Hawaiian faces; Samoan faces; Chinese faces; Korean faces; Pilipino faces; Japanese faces; Vietnamese faces…all bopping along like a bunch of little hipsters to the staccato rhythm of Blakey’s beat, Lee Morgan’s soaring trumpet, Benny Golson’s cascading tenor sax, Bobby Timmon’s two fisted piano, and I too was smiling.

Suddenly, a connection was made for me. I realized I do not want to be King, rather I want to march this earth as one who has trod upon it a mere thirsty six months, with a sense of wonder, a sense of joy, of silliness, of fun, a sense of abandon, a sense of the importance of the immediate. And so I say to you dear friend, that on any given morning at around nine a.m. Hawaiian time, if you will cup your ears and point them to the west. To Hawaii, if you will listen very closely you may, you just may, hear the sounds of Blakey and his Jazz Messingers and Roberto and his Gecko’s marching pit a pat pit a pat not anywhere in particular.