Principal: “One Of Your Snakes Just Crawled Under My Door And Terrified My First Graders.”
Story by Janet Seever
Summer had faded into fall in the small Minnesota farming community, bringing hoards of eager and not-so-eager students back to school. Golden fields of wheat were now great grasshopper-filled expanses of stubble. Ripened apples hung on the trees, waiting to be picked.
As a young teacher in my second year of teaching, I planned as much hands-on experience as possible for my 5th and 6th grade science classes in this rural setting with its abundance of plants and animals to study.
Not all animals make good pets, of course–some are best left in the wild. However, all can be used to teach respect for all of God’s living creatures, great and small. At least that was my theory.
One beautiful fall day, I took my students on a nature hike to a nearby lake where they collected the local flora and fauna. A few brought back frogs, so we looked at the characteristics of amphibians.
Someone picked up a fat white, yellow and black caterpillar on a milkweed plant and we marveled at the pale green Monarch chrysalis in the jar within a few days. One of the boys brought in several garter snakes, which were common in the area, so we placed them in a large glass aquarium with a mesh screen lid.
“These garter snakes are reptiles,” I said as I picked up a squirming snake and held it up for my science class to observe. “They have scales and are not slimy like some people think. They are completely harmless.” The girls in the class were totally unconvinced and did nothing to hide their dislike for the creatures, to the delight of the boys.
Between class periods, the boys were continually drawn to that aquarium. I was delighted that they were taking such an interest in the snakes, until I later realized just why those snakes were attracting so much attention. As the boys observed the snakes, they made sure they left the lid slightly ajar, allowing the snakes an exit if they found it.
“There’s a snake on the floor,” screamed one of the girls, jumping up on her chair as others around the classroom gasped and squealed. The boys found it difficult to contain their glee. After that I kept an eye on the snake cage whenever the boys were near it.
One day, however, I wasn’t observant enough. I heard a commotion and some screams from across the hallway. Soon there was a knock on my door. Flanked by the principal, Sister Ann pulled herself up to her full height of five feet one inch. Normally a placid person, she now had fire in her eyes. “Either those snakes go . . . or I go!” Her voice was ominous. “One of your snakes just crawled under my door and terrified my first graders.” By noon that day the snakes had won their freedom in a nearby field.
Some time later one of my students approached me. “We have some gerbils in a large cage at home,” said Terri. “My mom says I can bring the cage to school and we can keep them in our classroom.”
“Great! That’s really a generous offer,” I said, looking up from the paper I was correcting. “Tell your mother we would love to have them.” Little did I realize just how generous the offer was.
Gerbils are cute, friendly and prolific. The huge metal mesh cage, which was on a metal tray, soon became the center of attention. With many eyes peering in and hands reaching into the cage, the five gerbils became a bit nervous, and were no longer prolific.
What messy little creatures they turned out to be! They acted as paper shredders, happily chewing anything that landed in their cage. All the students were happy to oblige. Many of the homework papers they turned in now were stamped with characteristic teeth marks in a corner, much as we would stamp “received” or “paid” on our paperwork. If a student had a bad test mark, he would accidentally slip the test paper into the cage and presto, it was gone. There was nothing left to take home to his parents.
One day after school, the custodian paid me a dreaded visit. My heart sank as I saw him walk into the room with a grim expression on his face.
Leaning his metal hook hand against his large industrial dust mop, Mr. Broussard chose his words carefully. “As I sweep up the paper scraps your animals leave behind, static electricity makes them cling to my dust mop, and I end up getting them all over the building.” He paused, glaring at me. “I will no longer be cleaning your room. You will need to clean it yourself.”
So I added sweeping my classroom to the list of tasks I needed to do each afternoon before I could go home.
One day some weeks later, I called Terri up to my desk. “Thanks so much for bringing your gerbils to school so we could see them. We’ve enjoyed them for a couple months, but now I think its time for them to go back home.”
I’ll bet her mother was ecstatic to get the news. I could almost hear her cheering clear across town.