William "Pat" Hundley outshines Arnold Schwarzenegger any day.
In "Kindergarten Cop," now showing at area theaters, the burly, scowling Austrian muscle man proved a fumbling teacher, nearly undone by the kids. But Mr. Hundley, a 30-year-old teacher at Stoneleigh Elementary School in Baltimore County and one of the few males in the area to take on rambunctious 5- and 6-year-olds in a kindergarten class every day, takes it all in stride.
"It's a little like letting out a box of puppies on a baseball field and then trying to get them back in," he says, describing the experience on a recent afternoon between classes. "Sometimes they'll come and sometimes they won't."
A relaxed kind of guy with longish hair, Mr. Hundley typically appears in class wearing wash-and-wear slacks, casual shirt open at the collar and red high-top sneakers, the signature of his ward-robe. Pupils, impressed by the footwear, often ask their moms to buy them the same.
If Mr. Hundley's morning and afternoon classes seem more laid-back than most, it's because he believes young boys and girls should have fun above all else.
"I feel school is a social institution before it's an educational institution," he explains. "I want them to have a good experience in school, to know it's a fun place."
When things are getting out of hand and it looks as if the 13 boys and six girls in the afternoon class are going to run off in 19 different directions, he reacts with a typical male response -- a shrill whistle. That stops them in their tracks and restores quiet to the classroom.
If stronger measures are required, he may enforce a minute of silence, a daunting challenge to the kids for whom 60 seconds seem like an eternity.
Usually, the ability to charm and to entertain is all Mr. Hundley needs to keep the boys and girls on track. He relies on his out-of-the classroom pastime, singing and playing the guitar and banjo at occasional children's concerts, including the Cloisters Children's Museum.
He starts the day by picking up Maybelline, his trusty guitar, gets down on the carpet with the kids and opens with songs he has written for the class. The boys and girls join in, voices often out of tune but singing lustily, belting out the words.
In performing an animal song, he calls out, "I wanna hear a rooster . . . a pig . . . a baby crying . . . ducks . . . snoring," and the boys and girls come back with the appropriate sound effects.
Mr. Hundley also scores big with his alter ego, Hans, a character he frequently assumes to liven things up. While a volunteer mother keeps order in the classroom, he slips next door to the faculty room and puts on his disguise of wildly plaid jacket, derby or straw hat and old-fashioned, gold-rimmed glasses. To the delight of the kids, Hans speaks in a mixture of German, Russian and East Baltimore accents, and plays the flutelike penny whistle.
Later, when the children break up into small groups, he introduces them to such activities as "snow writing," taking an aerosol can of shaving cream and spraying it onto a table top. LTC The children gleefully spread the frothy stuff over the surface and write on it.
Aware he's competing with television, he observes, "They've been watching 'Sesame Street' for years. I don't have all those resources, so I have to be animated and keep things interesting to hold their attention."
"A lot of people think my classroom is nosier than most, but it doesn't bother me. I let it go on. I don't want a bunch of slugs. I prefer kids who are active. They're good for me when I want them to be good."
Unlike the diminutive principal (Linda Hunt) in "Kindergarten Cop" who is skeptical of the L.A. cop turned undercover teacher in her school, Stoneleigh's principal Shirley Tepper approves wholeheartedly of male teachers. The school also has a male physical education teacher.
"I think it's wonderful," she says. "The more male teachers I have the better I like it. It's good to have a male role model."
Parents agree too.
John Garman, administrator and high school history teacher at Friends School and father of T. J., who attends Mr. Hundley's afternoon class, says, "He [Mr. Hundley] has an amazing ability to know just how far to let the kids go to be independent and at the same time to be part of the group."
Another parent, Patty Dixon, whose daughter Bethany was in Mr. Hundley's class four years ago, continues to volunteer in his kindergarten class because she enjoys the experience. "The kids love him," she says. "He makes everything a lot of fun. He gives the children a good attitude toward school, a good beginning."
A Towson native, Mr. Hundley was an English major at Frostburg State University when he heard a college buddy tout the advantages of studying early childhood education. He had worked summers as a camp counselor, liked dealing with kids and decided to try it. As a lone male in a class of 25 women, he stood out in sharp contrast, raising questions in the minds of some.
"The issue was debated why I was there," he recalls. "Actually, I enjoyed the controversy. I was sort of rebellious at the time."
More questions were asked later when Mr. Hundley applied to teach 3- and 4-year-olds at the Head Start Program at St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Church in East Baltimore.
With a year's experience behind him, he came to Stoneleigh early in 1986 as a second-grade teacher. He found teaching at that level demanded more structure than he was comfortable with, and when an opening occurred in kindergarten that September, he switched.
Now working on a master's degree in early childhood education at Towson State University, the bachelor teacher concedes kindergarten has been traditionally woman's work but feels it's time for change. Others are following suit. Locally, Park School has a male kindergarten teacher.
Mr. Hundley also sees himself following a well-established family tradition. His mother teaches first grade at Hampden Elementary School and a grandmother taught at the same level.