Whether it's building ramps for toy cars, making paper airplanes or dressing up as a clown, "Teacher Tim" has been the creative and upbeat teacher preschoolers have come to love. This year Tim Dobbins is retiring after more than 25 years of being an actor, an inventor and a teacher at the Mountain View Parent Nursery School.
Dobbins became an assistant teacher for the preschool in 1989, and was a teacher when the school had moved into its current location -- an area tucked away near the girls softball field and the Freestyle Academy at Mountain View High School. The spot began as an empty lot, and is now home to a log cabin, a performance stage, a playground structure and a track for kids to ride bicycles.
And Dobbins' legacy spans the preschool grounds -- literally. He set up a multipurpose zip line that runs through the middle of the school. Though it's not designed for the kids to actually ride, they have sent stuffed animals in baskets down the zip line, according to Marie Faust Evitt, a teacher who works closely with Dobbins at the school.
Dobbins has a reputation with the parents and teachers for being a tinkerer, building ramps for race cars and drive-through "car washes" with spray bottles for tricycle riders. Sometimes compared to MacGyver, Dobbins said he's used duct tape and cardboard boxes to build castles with bungee cord draw bridges. "The knights inside say 'Who goes there?' and I like saying 'It is I, Arthur, King of the Britons,'" Dobbins said.
Dobbins is also an actor. He graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts before becoming a teacher, and said his experience has come in handy at the preschool. He said he plays a number of different characters at the school, usually with names that start with "Silly." He's been Silly Santa, Silly Bunny, and Mr. Silly the clown.
Not that his goal is to surprise kids with a clown costume and traumatize them -- Dobbins explained that he is very careful in how he adopts roles like a clown or Santa. He dresses up like a clown in front of the preschool kids to let them know it's Teacher Tim dressed up as a clown, and that the face paint is supposed to exaggerate facial features and expressions for performance purposes. After that, Dobbins said, some kids are champing at the bit to dress up as a clown.
Dobbins' teaching philosophy revolves around the idea that preschool kids learn through play. He said teachers at the preschool rely on emergent curriculum, where student interests dictate what will be taught, and playing as a way of teaching to that curriculum. There's less of an emphasis on learning arithmetic or the alphabet, which gets taught at the kindergarten level anyway. "Play progression, social learning and socialization are the predecessors to academic learning," Dobbins said.
In 2009, Dobbins put his teaching techniques and philosophy into writing when he co-authored "Thinking BIG, Learning BIG," which includes over 300 of the preschool's classroom activities that focus on learning by doing.
Parents like Susan Pence see Dobbins as a jack of all trades because of his imagination, his inventions and his acting. "One minute he's gardening, and the next minute he's doing science experiments," Pence said.
Pence has a son in kindergarten who attended the Parent Nursery School for the last couple of years, and said kids tend to gravitate toward Dobbins because he's playful and silly in a way that kids aren't intimidated by, and feel safe.
"Kids are receptive to someone who has playful energy and can act like a child," Pence said. "They feel like they've found a partner in crime for having fun."
But after a quarter century of working at the preschool, Dobbins said it's time to move on. At age 66, he said he wants to go out "on top" and not end his career too old to keep up his upbeat and active persona.
To celebrate Dobbins' 25 years of teaching at the preschool, the Mountain View Parent Nursery School will be hosting a carnival on Sunday, May 4, from 2 to 4 p.m. at Alta Vista High School. The event will include music, face painting, temporary tattoos and a ring toss, along with a slide show and skit in the multi-purpose room. Evitt said they expect a big turnout from current families as well as alumni parents and children. The event will also be a fundraiser for plans to relocate the Mountain View Parent Nursery School in the future.
Three years ago, the preschool came together along with community members to support Tim Dobbins when his house burned down in 2011. Dobbins said a candle had been left burning one night and the building caught fire. Though nobody in the family was hurt, the house was unlivable.
Shortly after the fire, women working at the preschool got together and starting sending money, anonymously, to a bank account they had set up to help Dobbins and his family. Dobbins said they had raised quite a bit of money -- enough to help him move into a new place and get back on track.
Dobbins said he plans to come back and visit the school from time to time, maybe making a cameo appearance as one of his "silly" characters, to keep in touch with the preschool and the kids. But parents say he will be missed. "If I asked my son right now," Pence said, "he would say Tim was one of his favorite parts about preschool."