The (Usually) Unsinkable Sub (Part 2)
"The Kids Aren't the Only Wild Animals in the Classroom"
by Margy Ferguson
Continued from last month's Gazette
Just as Dr. Spock did not cover everything about parenting, so do college profs not cover everything about subbing. In fact, they frequently don't cover it at all, which is a mystery to me. Not every graduating teacher leaps off the stage, certificate in hand and loaded for bear. Learning to be a good sub is definitely on-the-job-training.
One aspect is The Classroom Pet. In the past several years, I have personally encountered several snakes, rats, mice, gerbils, rabbits, hedgehogs, guinea pigs, cats, and iguanas. (Fish don't count. They are in the room to serve as a hypnotic stress-reducer.) Sometimes the regular teacher will leave you a note about dear little Sparky. Sometimes they don't.... Sometimes you already know there is a critter in the classroom. Sometimes you don't... Sometimes the kids don't tell you, either!
Bobbi had a large brown rabbit in her second-grade room. Bunny had the run of the place, as long as the door was closed. I subbed in there one dark and gloomy winter day, thinking Bunny was resting in her little hutch, as the cage door was closed. (Now, to fully appreciate this, you must understand that my eyes are so astigmatic and nearsighted that my glasses could easily be made from pop bottle bottoms. Suffice it to say I don't see very well sometimes...) So, there I stood, in front of the class, little sweet faces looking at me, eager to learn whatever it was I was teaching, and all of a sudden there is a very loud SCREAM, and I realize that it came out of MY mouth. The kids are falling on the floor laughing, I am leaning against the desk trying to figure out what happened, and poor Bunny is racing around and around the room like her tail's on fire. It dawns on me then that I saw this large brown thing race across my feet, but with my fuzzy eyes, I thought it was a rat, thus the scream...
Rats make good classroom pets. They must, there are so many of them. Rosie was a nice rat, as rats go. She was in a fifth-grade room in Ames, Iowa several years ago. She was pure white except for her beady little red eyes and her icky pink tail. (Rat tails need fur.) I was an aide in those days, and part of my job was to feed Rosie. Realizing one day that I needed to overcome my fear and loathing of her-'let this be a challenge'-I spent my lunch breaks playing with her, handling her, talking to her. Rosie wasn't much good at conversation, but she liked to sit on my lap and twitch her nose at me. Sure enough, one day several of the boys in class crowded around me, asking me what I thought of rats, etc., etc., etc. , and the inevitable happened-one of the kids had Rosie and shoved her right into my face. Rosie and I were nose to nose, only hers was twitching again, and I felt my eyes start to cross as I stared at her furry little face. Summoning all of my courage, I took a quick breath and calmly said, "Oh, hi there, Rosie, howzit goin'?" This, of course, was NOT what the boys, evil little twits that they were, had in mind. They wanted screams and hollering and me running out of the room. When I asked if I could hold her, it really crushed them. Hee, hee, hee!! Sub-1, Kids-zip.
'Snowflake' was an albino snake owned by a sixth-grade boy. Snakes are spooky enough, but a white one is really weird. (Rumor was, he had several snakes, and a couple of tarantulas, but no one could ever prove the latter.) Snowflake was easily 5 feet long. Her owner brought her to school one day, wrapped around his neck. I was subbing in a third grade, but the kids had seen the snake before school started, and they were clamoring for a visit. Finally I checked with the kid and his teacher, and, darn it, sure, there was a little time that he could bring Snowflake in, to show my kids. Remembering Rosie, I took a deep breath and asked the kid if I could hold Snowflake a minute. He was, darn it, agreeable to this and handed me all the loops, which were writhing and twisting about his arm. Snowflake took a sniff of my wrist and immediately began to slither up my arm towards my shoulder, her tongue darting in and out, in and out.
This was not at all what I had in mind.
"Oh, she likes you!" remarked the owner proudly, as the class erupted in cheers and shouts of, "GO, SNOWFLAKE, GET THE SUB!!!" ...little rodents... Just as Snowflake reached my left ear, I got a firm hold on her middle and lifted her off my arm, out into space. Her owner took her and repeated his statement, as the kids groaned and aw-shucksed, feeling cheated, I'm sure, at not being able to see the snake lick the sub's ear.
John is a really cool kid who raises rats for fun and profit. He doesn't always 'get' math, but he knows a lot about rats. He raises spotted ones, smaller than Rosie was, and he hand-tames them so they will be good pets. He brought one to school last year, when I was subbing in his room, and he let me hold her. "Patches" was black and white, had a black tail, (which, for some reason didn't look as icky as the white ones), beautiful dark eyes and tickly whiskers. John told me to put Patches in my shirt pocket, that she liked pockets. Well, she didn't like MY pocket. She was out in seconds, scurrying up to my shoulder, where she sat for a moment, surveying the room. I must be getting calmer in my old age, because this did not bother me. I thought it was kind of neat, actually! Having determined that I was suitable, Patches then turned around and crawled onto the back of my neck, under my hair..... Now, I have very naturally curly hair. It is like having a tangle of jungle weeds on top of my head. Hair ornaments have been lost in there that are yet to be found. Patches loved my hair! Patches curled up under my hair and rested between my neck and the collar on my shirt. It was a perfect fit. It also tickled like crazy.
Being flexible, as a good little sub needs to be, I decided to turn this into a Teachable Moment. I stood up straighter, felt Patches adjust herself accordingly, and told the kids that we were going to do predictions on how long they thought Patches would stay under my hair. Everybody buzzed about this for a few minutes, then wrote down their guesses and signed their names. To sweeten the pot, I said that whoever came closest would get an extra ticket for the weekly drawing. I don't remember who won, but Patches stayed there, snoozing (John checked) for nearly half an hour!
See what I mean? They just don't cover stuff like that in the ed courses.