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How One Adult Can Help A Student Stop Feeling Defeated

February 28, 2019

Most parents and educators that have worked with elementary children are familiar with the Captian Underpants books. If you are not familiar with the series the premise is about two boys, George and Harold. George and Harold are usually pulling pranks and ending up in the office for various reasons. In the first book, the boys put a spell on their principal, Mr. Krupp to turn him into Captain Underpants.

When my kids were great fans of the Captain Underpants series and usually couldn’t wait until the newest book came to the library. Since my kids were so enthralled by the antics of George and Harold I wanted to find out more about the author, Dav Pilkey.

As I looked on Dav’s website my heart felt heavy as I read his biography. I empathized for him, as I learned about the way his talents were treated when he was in elementary school. He even did a comic book version of his experience in school on his website.

I quote Dav, “For his crimes against humanity Dav Pilkey was sentenced to four years of high school where, unfortunately, many of Dav’s teachers excelled in the art of constructive criticism!” The teachers in the picture are looming over Dav and saying, “You’re a bad influence!” and “You’ll never amount to anything, art-boy.” In the picture, you can see the defeat in younger Dav’s eyes.

As I read the biography I started to recall some of the students I have crossed paths with in my 18 years of working in the public school system. I have a heart for kids and the ones that come foremost to my mind are the students that struggled both socially and academically.

I think of the middle school boy in my earth science class that didn’t complete the essay question on the test, however, I was aware he knew the answer. I asked him up to my desk to give the answer orally. He aced the test!

I remember the Kindergarten boy sitting on the carpet with his classmates. I was asking the students to think about a time they felt sad. When it was this little boys’ turn he said: “I feel sad because my mom is in jail and I don’t get to see her.” His comment and the sadness in his face brought tears to my eyes (it still does).

I reflect on the day I found a high school girl eating her lunch in the bathroom. I invited her into my classroom to eat her lunch with me. I guess she just couldn’t face whatever was going on for her in the lunchroom that day.

There are many stories about the students I taught that stick in my head. There were some days I felt so frustrated with a students’ behavior I did set him or her out in the hall. I didn’t see any other way to eliminate my frustrations with the student.

However, as my years in teaching went on more and more I realized the importance of creating positive relationships with all students. The more time I took to build trust with my students by creating spaces to connect, confronting my assumptions, and reframing the situation, the more I realized that all it took to create a positive interaction with a student was me. When I changed my attitude and perspective to the student, our relationship also changed.

Dav Pilkey describes high school as four long years of discouragement and humiliation. Luckily he found one teacher at college that believed in his talents. One adult that said “Haw, This is hilarious. You’re such a good writer and artist Dav. You should make children books!”

Sometimes that is all it takes. One statement of encouragement from an adult, one person that finds values in your talents. One person that can guide you on your way.

Dave Pilkey has ADHD and dyslexia. In an interview, he admits that as a kid he felt stupid in school. The not so funny part of Dav’s biography is that so many kids can relate to what Dav experienced in school, feeling trapped, jailed, discouraged, shamed or told that they are not good enough. All people, especially children need to know there is a place for them in this world.

The mission of Wildewood Learning is to help educators, youth professionals and parents to create meaningful experiences to support children in finding a place where they can feel confident, strong and excited about learning. I encourage you to reach out and find out more about how Wildewood Learning can support you or your organization. Contact Kathy at for a free consultation on services that can help build positive and meaningful experiences for youth.