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Current Issue Table of Contents | Back Issues

MARCH 2001
Volume 2 Number 3

Teachers.Net celebrates 5 years this month! Read about how teachers across the planet have visited and contributed to shape this most dynamic of collaborative educator projects!
Effective Teaching by Harry & Rosemary Wong
Promoting Learning by Marv Marshall
Alfie Kohn Article
4 Blocks by Cheryl Sigmon
School Psychologist by Beth Bruno
Jan Fisher Column
BCL Classroom by Kim Tracy
Reform Demands on Educators
Bullies: Advice for Teachers
Around the Block With...
Are Black Children Treated Differently?
The Cherub
Brain Awareness Week
Celebrating Dr. Seuss
The Issue of Violence in Our Schools
Rethinking How We Raise Teenagers
Contextual Clarity Before Curricular Concept
Early Mainstreaming for Visually Impaired
How Do You Stop a Bully?
Technology Integration
Is Distance Learning For You?
Short Fiction Paradigm Shift
The Unsinkable Sub
Things I Learned From My Daughter
Preventing Rules From Falling Apart
Web News & Events
Upcoming Ed Conferences
Letters to the Editor
New in the Lesson Bank
Humor from the Classroom
Help Wanted - Teaching Jobs
Gazette Back Issues
Gazette Home Delivery:

About Margy Ferguson...
Margy Ferguson was born in Iowa, grew up in St. Louis, and has been married to a watercolor artist for 36 years. They live in Eastern Washington. After her two kids left the nest, she returned to college, graduating at the age of 51 in 1994 with a degree in Elementary Education. She has been subbing ever since, averaging 120/180 days a year, for which she is grateful. A 'career sub' by choice, she subs K-6, library, Title, Skill Center, PE, music, and even noon recess when they are desparate. She has been known to wear two different sneakers, just to see if anyone notices, and is famous in certain circles for her unique earrings.

She owns one inside cat, and is owned by two outside cats. She enjoys reading (anything but romance novels and slashers), watching old movies, sewing and daydreaming. A former Brownie leader, 4-H leader (rabbits), soccer and basketball mom, she loves working with kids, and often volunteers at school when she has a 'day off' from subbing. She plans to sub until "'s no fun anymore, or I'm 65, whichever comes first."

Email Margy Ferguson at

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Teacher Feature...
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.