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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Saluting Teachers Everywhere with my Hamster Story!

Good afternoon!

So school is just about at an end for the year here in the US and I want to salute the hard work and thankless weirdness teachers endure.  See, when you work with kids apart from their parents is a challenge, and when you also have to deal with parents...well, that's a recipe for saint hood in some cases.

Many, many moons ago I was also a teacher.  Yes, they trusted me with the education of tiny humans.  It didn't last long.  And this story may be part of why.

My first (and only) year of teaching was at a tiny parochial school just outside of Detroit, Michigan. I had grades K-3 (it was a TINY school) topping out at 18 students when they were all there.  I inherited from the previous teacher an aging hamster named...oh crud, what was that beast's name...oh right, CHESTER!  Chester was a very old hamster, fat, slow moving, two feet on the rainbow bridge, however you want to look at it.

In October, as most teachers know, there's a lovely long weekend we call "Teacher's Conference."  I don't know about you, but growing up in a teacher's house, that was code for, "Great weekend out of town with no kids."  I knew I was going to be away from the classroom for four days and that was too long to leave Chester alone.  So I asked for volunteers from the classroom and Timmy and Sally Brown (not their real names) volunteered.

Now, teachers know this, but for those who don't, getting a kindergartener and a first grader to volunteer for anything is easy.  Getting proper follow through on the part of the parents is more of a challenge.  (I believe the phrase we all know is, "My kid said I'd do WHAT?")  But in the case of the Brown children, I knew the mother well and knew her to be a lovely, giving, attentive person.

Or so I thought.

I handed Chester off to Mrs. Brown on Wednesday afternoon. I gave the Browns the food, litter, water dish, and tank. Basically they were going to have to feed and water and poop producing paper weight for four days.  

Something you should know about Timmy Brown: The child was a hot mess.  I mean, he was definitely genius material, so smart, but when it came to basic stuff like holding on to a pencil for more than five minutes without losing it or playing outside for one ten minute recess without tearing a hole in his clothes or getting covered in mud...the kid just wasn't able to do it.  I would give him one pencil each morning at 8 and by 9:30 he'd lost it. Same with crayons. I'd give him one and within five minutes he'd either eaten it or lost it.  I'm pretty sure the kid pooped rainbows.  But so smart!  He loved to take things apart and put them back together again, just to see how they worked.  

Timmy's younger sister, Sally, was just as smart, but far more together. Her desk was always perfection, she never got dirty, and I could put a 64 box of crayons in her hand and it would return to me days later in pristine condition.

Knowing all this, I gave the Brown family the classroom pet and I dashed off to teachers conference.

Monday morning dawned full of enthusiasm and excitement. Remember, I was a rookie and everything seemed like a new, great, wonderful idea.  I was sorting things at my desk and greeting the wee ones as they came in, when I heard this:

"Miss Schultz! Timmy killed Chester!"

All eyes shot to the classroom door where Sally Brown, looking very old maid school marm with her
spotless white blouse and jumper and her stern facial expression. (Hilarious on a five year old.)

"I'm sorry, what did you say Sally?"

"Timmy killed Chester!"  She walked in the room with a grave air of importance.  The normal buzz from the other students silenced as she approached my desk.  "Chester escaped from his cage and Timmy was chasing him and Timmy fell on Chester and crushed him."

Sure, at first I gasped at the horror of it.  But let's think about this:  Chester escaped from his cage? This was a hamster housed in a big fish tank.  I checked on a regular basis to see if he was BREATHING. The idea that he'd made a break for it was...not even in my power to envision.

Second, Chester moved fast enough that someone had to CHASE him?  

Third: What kind of trauma did that create in the Brown household when the six year old fell and CRUSHED the geriatric classroom pet?

Sometimes it's hard to be a teacher when you want to just laugh right out loud and you can't because doing so might just damage those spongy little brains and face it, don't we all live to NOT be mentioned in a serial killer's memoir?

At this point Timmy walked in looked quite crestfallen.  It was the same expression he wore when he lost, ate, or destroyed ten crayons before lunch.  "I'm sorry Missus Schultz"  (Half the kids called me Miss, half Missus.  I didn't correct them because...well, it just didn't matter in the scope of things.)  "Chester somehow broke out of his cage and he was running away and I was chasing him and I tripped and fell on him."

Now, you'd think there would be a parent in the classroom somehow explaining this so the youngsters wouldn't have to relive the horror of a crushed critter on their own. You'd be wrong. The parents in this "not quite Detroit" classroom weren't what you'd call "hands on" so much as they were "get out of the car and don't bother me until I have to come get you at 3:30."  So no, Mrs. Brown dropped her kids off and did not step in to give me the true details of what had happened.

Of course, later in the year, at a field trip to an amusement park, Mrs. Brown had some sort of brain injury (inflicted on her when a boarder she'd taken in beat her head with a baseball bat. She didn't bother to get treatment at the time. Why would she?) and we had to send her from the field trip to the hospital...which was in Canada...because that's where the amusement park was. (What, you don't take gradeschool kids across international lines to ride roller coasters and call it a field trip?  Well you should!  But that's another story for another day.)

My point in all of this is that there was no more Chester, I never did get the fish tank or the hamster food back, and Mrs. Brown never did fully explain what happened. Quite honestly, I counted it as a win because I never had to worry about a classroom pet again.

So stay strong my dear teacher friends!  The school year is nearly over, you almost get to turn those kids back over to their parents for ten weeks...just so the parents can ruin everything you've worked for in the last nine months.

Think of it as job security.

Have a great summer!




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