16/03/2015 11:52 GMT | Updated 14/05/2015 06:59 BST

What Happened When a Four-Year Old Coloured a Duck like a Rainbow

Introducing my twelve 3-year olds in China to 'Timmy the Rainbow Bear'. 20 years on and I still think of Tim* and his rainbow-coloured duck.


It was 1995 and I had not long returned from volunteer teaching for a year in Swaziland. I was 20 years old. I knew I wanted to work with children.

During the first year of teacher training, we spent most of our time in lectures, writing up notes and listening to hour-upon-hour of different philosophies of how to 'get through' to children. This has since changed and teacher training is more about being in the classroom than being in the lecture hall.

Then finally, the day came when we were allowed to go into the classroom. I had been looking forward to this part and had superbly itchy feet to get back to working with the people I wanted to be around most... children!

One little four year old boy, Tim* was working hard on a print out of Dippy Duck. For those who are not familiar, Dippy is a yellow duck and part of the LetterLand scheme which is one way to help children to learn to read.

Tim looked up at me and asked, "Can I colour Dippy in different colours like a rainbow?"

"Of course!" I enthused, feeling really happy that I could work alongside such creativity.

Tim set to work with eager enthusiasm and I stepped back to watch him, a huge smile on my face and a warm feeling in my heart.

Tim stuck his tongue out as young children often do when they are concentrating and selected different colours to create a beautiful rainbow effect for Dippy Duck, taking care to colour within the lines. He held it up for me to see and I literally felt like I was going to burst with love!

Tim's teacher was doing the rounds and came to our table. She eyed the beautiful multi-coloured duck.

"Tim!" she exclaimed, crossly.

"Dippy Duck is yellow, not rainbow coloured. Start again."

She ripped up Tim's pretty rainbow duck into pieces and threw it in the bin then gave him another sheet to work on from scratch.

Tim picked up a yellow colour, looking confused and deeply saddened. He started to colour in, taking no care and colouring over the lines.

I wonder now, in my early 40's if much has changed in schools. I know that teachers are over-stretched, under-paid and put under enormous pressures. I know that each individual teacher has their own life story to contend with. I totally get that teachers have to put in many extra hours to just stay afloat. I know all of this because I am a teacher!

But this is not about the teachers... this is about Tim. I often wonder what he is doing now. Some might say he forgot about this and it probably didn't register. When I was four years old, my Dad asked for some of my Milky Bar and I said 'No!'. I felt bad about this until way into my 20's! That might sound odd to some but it also illustrates how children do remember and even the seemingly smallest event can be magnified and recalled, over and over again.

I do believe that education needs to be totally deconstructed and re-built again with different foundations. And I wonder if Tim ever told his parents about his art work being ripped up in front of his eyes. And I wish... I wish I had said something. I comforted Tim but I did not stand up to the teacher. I would do things differently now. All I hope is that Tim is happy and thriving and living to his potential.

"Children are even as a branch that is fresh and green; they will grow up in whatever way ye train them. Take the utmost care to give them high ideals and goals, so that once they come of age, they will cast their beams like brilliant candles on the world..."

Abdu'l- Baha

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