Teaching on the Island of Misfit Toys

Watching the 1964 TV special Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer is a Christmas tradition for many people around the world.

It is the story of a young red-nosed reindeer who is bullied for being different. He teams up with a toy-making elf who wants to be a dentist, and they set out on an adventure to find a place that will accept them. On their journey, they discover an island of misfit toys that have been tossed aside due to the slight ‘defects’ they possess. Unwanted and rejected, the toys live in sadness on the island waiting for the day that someone will want them as their own. Rudolph and Hermey (the elf dentist) understand the plight of the toys and promise to return and save them all. In the end, Rudolph learns that greatness can be achieved by anyone, even those that are least expected to succeed, and he saves the day by finding a home for each misfit toy.

Watching it now as a teacher reminds me of the importance of creating a home for the students we teach who feel as though they are misfits.

Teaching on the Island of Misfit Toys

Many of our students feel like they are stuck on the island of misfit toys everyday. They are often the students who drive teachers crazy, and they disguise their pain by acting out or causing disruption. Sometimes they are the ones who look totally put together on the outside, but on the inside they are screaming for help. Regardless of what type of ‘misfit’ they may be, there is one thing they all have in common… they just want to feel cared for and loved.

4 ‘Misfits’ We All Teach

Rudolph

Rudolph is a reindeer that wants to pull Santa’s sleigh. He starts out believing that he can do anything he puts his mind to, and he has the confidence he needs to achieve his goals. It isn’t until he is made to feel inadequate by his peers that he begins to doubt himself. Eventually he wishes he could just disappear.

Some of our students may feel like a ‘Rudolph.’ At some point they had the ambition to achieve the goals they set for themselves and were filled with the confidence to take on the world. Somewhere along the way, however, they were rejected and made to feel inadequate by someone in their lives. Now, they feel like a misfit with nowhere to turn. Just like Rudolph, they desperately wish that someone would stand by their side and let them know they are special.

Be the teacher who is willing to lift students up when all others drag them down. Allow students who feel like Rudolph to shine by standing by them when they need you most.


Hermey (the elf dentist)

Hermey is an elf who works in Santa’s workshop. Unlike his peers, he does not enjoy making toys but rather his lifelong goal is to be a dentist. Those around him in the workshop, as well as those in charge, cannot grasp this concept and they shun him. He is misunderstood because no one ever took the time to notice his true passion and he is considered to be a failure.

Some of our students may feel like a ‘Hermey.’  They don’t follow the crowd and they feel lost because no one has taken the time to notice their true passions. They don’t fit in with the status quo and they often end up being tossed aside. Just because a student does not match the expectations we have for them, does not mean they won’t surpass them in ways we never thought possible.

Be the teacher who is willing to welcome the passions of your students, and find ways to make them intertwine with their learning. This way, those that feel like Hermey will soar.


Charlie in the Box

Charlie is a toy that is discarded because of his name. He is considered a ‘misfit’ simply because he has been ‘labeled’ incorrectly. Instead of being named Jack like all of his counterparts, he is named Charlie. He feels alone and lost because of the label others have put on him.

Some of our students may feel like a ‘Charlie in the Box.’ Many of them have labels placed on them that they just cannot seem to escape. They begin to believe that their worth is found only in the category others place them into. We must show all of our ‘Charlies’ that they are worth so much more than a label even if they themselves do not believe it.

Be the teacher who eradicates labels and helps those that feel like Charlie believe in themselves. It may take a little extra patience and love, but they deserve to be celebrated for the uniqueness they bring to the world.


Dolly Sue

Dolly Sue is a doll who lives on the island of misfit toys and just wants to be loved. On the outside she looks perfectly fine. She has no physical flaws, her name fits her well, and she is well liked by other toys. She is on the island, however, because on the inside she is broken. Due to her past experiences of being left on a shelf, forgotten, she is now a doll who feels she is unlovable.

Some of our students may feel like a ‘Dolly Sue.’  They do what is expected of them, they get good grades and they put on a happy face every day. They are often the students who we view as the model for others due to their outward facade. They build a wall so strong, however, that only the most powerful bond can break through. They are desperately seeking someone who could mend the brokenness inside of them.

Be the teacher who builds a bond of trust so strong that those who feel like Dolly Sue understand that they are not forgotten or alone. Give them the safe haven they need to open up and break down the wall they so often hide behind.


The students that many consider ‘misfits,’ desperately need someone in their lives who is in their corner no matter what may happen. When we take the time to care for them and show them that they are valuable, we can alter their path and help them to become the heroes of their own story.

 

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  • Bonnie Grover

    Thank you for this wonderful perspective. Every analogy rings true. My classroom is full of misfits who bring with them more trauma than I can ever imagine. Our classroom culture has shifted since I started teaching 20 plus years ago. Now more than ever, I understand that my true calling is more than teaching these kiddos. It is to love and care for them And find a way to help them fit in.