Monday, January 11, 2010

Paws Of Fury

As I have said (read: complained about) before, it is hard to come up with something to write about each and every day. Even when I was in the classroom full time, I would often come home with nothing to say. (I know, hard to believe. Me with nothing to say.) (No smart comments about that being a relief, please.) And as a result of that difficulty, I often threaten to write about my cat. You know, her nap schedule, eating preferences, etc. Basically, FASCINATING STUFF.

Well, friends, you have to know how close I came to telling you an adorable story of my robust kitty and her sleeping habits UNTIL...

I remembered I never told you the drama/minor trauma that was my first and only classroom pet. (And just like that, you were spared from Tales of My Kitty.)

Okay. So this all happened WAY BACK WHEN in my first year of teaching at my former school, which was only my second year of teaching ever. (I'm still not sure my first year even counted what with all the crying and threats to quit. Just ask Big Mama Mimi...there was lots of crying. LOTS.) Regardless, I still had yet to find my voice as a teacher and would basically do whatever I was told and please tell me what to do because this job is so much harder than I ever imagined and I will take any help I can get. Thank goodness I loved my friends that year. LOVED them. To pieces. (Translation: I would have done anything for them including giving up most of my weekends and evenings to plan lessons and make the horrible decision to accept a class pet.)

ANYWAY, back to the pet (or should I say pure evil reincarnated as a furry little hamster). One day, after I had dismissed my friends ( who I LOVED but they exhausted me beyond belief), I was getting ready for the next day (read: frantically running around my room starting and stopping eighteen various projects because I had yet to hone the wonder that is my To Do list) when The Weave walked in. Now, at the start of my career, The Weave was extremely supportive of me and my progress. Really. I know you are staring at the computer screen in disbelief, but I have to be honest, she really was.

Her: I have a great idea for you and your class!
Me: Okaaaay?
Her: Something I think will really bring an even more positive vibe to your room and be good for the kids.
Me: Okaaaay?
Her: I'll have someone bring it up. It's going to be great.
Me: Okayyy.

She leaves the classroom. Within seconds, a fifth grader is in my room and drops off two big packages on the desk nearest the door and leaves. Like he had been lurking down the hallway waiting for the signal. Like The Weave had been making her way down the hall working each teacher to see who was the least resistant to her idea (read: biggest sucker). Or something like that.

The first package is a tremendous bag of cedar chips. Immediately, I know I am screwed. The smell of cedar has already filled my room and, having had a hamster in college (RIP Zeus....), I know that the stench of pee is soon to follow. Like I need more pee in my life.

The second package is a brown paper bag. With a plastic cage. And a sweet blond hamster.

At first. AT FIRST, I think to myself, "What a sweet hamster! This could be great! Think about the observations! Think about the classroom jobs! Think about the incentive! Think about the lessons on caring and responsibility!"

When I should have been thinking, "Think of all the times you will have to clean out the cage! Think about all the weekends when you are afraid to leave this thing in the freezing temperatures and end up bringing it home on the subway! Think about trying to find a home for it over the summer! Think about how overwhelmed you are by all the new curriculum and how much time you spend planning each and every day and how this is the last thing you need!"

I get our new friend all set up. The next day I introduce him to the class and let's just say they were excited. (Although it was more like someone had just announced FREE CANDY FOR A LIFETIME! and then proceeded to stuff each and every child with heinous amounts of sugar and caffeine.) We established some ground rules, I modeled the care of our friend and cleaning of his cage, we made some observations of his behavior and I thought, "This isn't so bad."


I soon discovered that this hamster was programmed to hate children. H.A.T.E. They treated him like a rare treasure, and in return he treated them like a chew toy. Children would earn time to spend with Wilbur (they named him after the pig in Charlotte's Web which was sweet but later very ironic given Wilbur's evil streak and hatred for all things human) or clean out his cage while the rest of us were engaged in some other activity. Without fail, and within the first fifteen seconds, there were howls of pain and cries for a Band Aid heard from Wilbur's little enclave in the corner of our room. It got so bad that I just put a basket of Band Aids next to his cage. (I probably should have put some heavy duty work gloves there instead, but hindsight is 20/20 I guess.) Did they begin to hate the hamster? No. Did they refuse to clean his cage? No. Did they try like hell to get him to love them? Yes. Did he eventually learn to love and trust my friends? NO.

Let me just say that the day I got some parent to agree to take him for the summer was one of the BEST days of my entire career, and one of my proudest triumphs. The family was thrilled, especially when I told them, "No need to bring him back in the fall. He's yours forever."

I have since learned that perhaps I am more of a fish-in-a-bowl type teacher, despite my personal love of animals. I have also learned that hamsters do not fare well in our school. My advice to you: just say no to pets in your first year of teaching. Classroom pets can be a wonderful thing, but you have enough on your plate.


aandersen said...

So, I almost got suckered in as well. But for me, it was a PetsMart freebie online that I got sucked into. Free cage, free bag of food, free chew toys, etc and go online for free lesson plans (good ones--I think a teacher actually wrote them *gasp*). Hamster or gerbil is free after sending in receipt. I signed up. Of course I did. I'm a teacher and it was FREE.
I went home and told my husband (also a teacher BTW). I was all excited and he gave me a big HeLLL-nooo.
In retrospect, this was good. But now I have guilt because a new cage et al is sitting in a box and I can't pawn it off on anyone.
Anybody out their want this stuff?!

Surfie said...

Wow, I'm surprised Wilbur didn't instill a fear of animals in your friends after all that. I won't even have a hamster or guinea pig at HOME because of all the work in keeping the cage clean and chasing it down when it escapes. You were very brave to let that little critter into your classroom. At least the kids liked it. :)

institutrice said...

Aren't (all) hamsters mean?

I can't believe someone would actually dump a living, breathing animal on anyone without permission or prior notice, especially a classroom teacher! But now imagine wanting a class pet, and having one for several years, and you have to get rid of it because a parent (not a doctor) says her kid is allergic, and THEN the kid LEAVES your class two months later!!!

jerel said...

I was actually kind of glad to see that you spent most of your first year teaching in tears. Because so did I, and until this moment, I thought it was just me. I'm technically on my 6th year of teaching, but it's my first year in middle school, and the previous teacher left NOTHING, and had no textbooks and very few useful resources and...and... yeah, there's been a lot of tears again.

Anyway, I will add "no class pets" to my list of things.

Tracy Fitzwater said...

The one and only pet I have ever had in my library has been a chia pet. A sheep chia pet. There are some real advantages to this type of pet, such as feeding is just watering, there is no cage to clean, and if the thing dries out or molds, throw it away. I was following a discussion about library pets on LM_NET several years ago, and was amazed to find I was (apparently) the only librarian who had this type of pet - what in the heck were they thinking? Real pets? I'll stick to my cat at home. So much easier....

LB said...

Hi Ms. Mimi!

I've been reading your blog for awhile, but this is my first time leaving a comment. Just wanted to say I like reading the posts about your first year(s) teaching. I'm in school for teaching and its nice to know not everyone starts out a "super-star" - that there is a lot of progress that happens in the first few years. When did you first start to feel like you found your voice as a teacher? I'd like to read a post about that!

luckeyfrog said...

When I do have a classroom pet, I want something a little different. I loved having tree frogs at one point, and I think they'd be fun. I'd love to have a snake, too- mainly to convince kids that they are cool and not gross and not at all slimy- but the snakes my family has had like to make escape attempts... and I don't want to be emailing a school of teachers with "Um, so, my snake is loose somewhere in the school..."

One of my teachers also had a turtle. We didn't get him out, but just watched him- and it worked out very well.

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