BELLE MEADE, TN—Belle Meade Day School kindergarten teacher Mrs. Allen, 33, says she has known since the first day of class that student Gregory Hutter, 6, was "line-leader material."
"He wasn't the tallest, but he conducted himself as if he were over four feet," Mrs. Allen said of Hutter, who she believes "has what it takes" to lead the class to key locations throughout the school such as the cafeteria, bathroom, water fountain, and to the playground. "Once he's got his feet under him a bit more, the sky's the limit on where he can take this class."
Mrs. Allen realized that Hutter could maintain his composure in high-pressure situations several months ago when, after recess, he took a quick sip of water at the drinking fountain. "He just had this innate sense that there were people waiting behind him who were also thirsty, and that the class was going to be late for music," she said. "You can't teach that."
Most teachers, after seeing Hutter cry when his mother dropped him off for school during the first two weeks, would have dismissed Hutter's future leadership prospects, but Mrs. Allen reportedly "kept on the boy." She forced him to complete his noodle necklace and printing drills with precision, despite the obvious emotional strain.
"I had to break him a little bit, but I was just preparing him for the kind of focus one needs to line lead," said Mrs. Allen, a former line leader, who admitted she sees a little bit of herself in Hutter. "I look out for the kid, help him grow. To be honest, I'm a little jealous. If I'd had a kindergarten teacher tell me to not swing my arms around wildly when I was his age, I might have one day grown up to be class president."
According to Mrs. Allen, she really started to think Hutter was "the real deal" when she gave him the responsibility of being the class's milk monitor last month. Though there were a few spills early on, Mrs. Allen said Hutter never got lost between the classroom and the cafeteria, and always returned promptly and avoided dillydallying.
"He's got what it takes to be another Tommy Masterson, or even a Lisa Wodtke," said Mrs. Allen, referring to outstanding line leaders from 1998 and 1995, respectively, whose high school careers she continues to follow.
When primary line leader Lauren Gratchic came down with chicken pox in mid-January, Mrs. Allen immediately tapped Hutter for the post. "It was sink or swim—and he swam," she said.
Heading out to recess, Hutter noticed there was construction near the playground, and held the line even though his teacher continued forward. "He was right, and I was wrong," said Mrs. Allen, who added that it seemed as if the kindergartner had "been a line leader his whole life." "I had completely forgotten about the announcement that the playground was off-limits for the day."
"I took him aside and told him that, in general, he should always follow me, no matter what," she added. "But the dynamic of our relationship is complex, and I think he knew I was proud of him."
Student reaction to Hutter's interim leadership was positive.
"He did really good," said fellow kindergartner Miles Reed, 5. "When he led us to lunch, he did good. And when he led us back to class, he did good. Lauren is also good. But she is a girl."
Mrs. Allen spoke cautiously about the imminent transfer of line-leading power, even as she praised Hutter's "seemingly innate" ability to always face forward and not peer into other classrooms while leading his classmates to the cafeteria.
"Sure he's good—shockingly good—and I even think he'd be able to share authority gracefully at times, like when the class has to split up into two lines to enter school assemblies," Mrs. Allen said. "But is he ready for prime time? You don't want to rush these things."
Mrs. Allen added: "Gregory's still just a little young."