Thursday, October 23, 2014

Bad Teacher and the Great Rodent Experiment

During my teaching career, I was sometimes like “Bad Teacher.” We had mice we kept in a cage in my sixth grade, self-contained classroom.  They were brought in by a student.  I think he found the mother mouse and babies in the barn!  The children could take the animals out of their cages and play with them after they finished their work.  (It was a different learning environment than in classrooms today.)  When one of the mice bit a boy’s finger, I just told him to squeeze it and make it bleed, then go to the restroom and wash it well, assured him he would be fine and luckily he was.

When a very observant young man told me my favorite, red, long Indian print skirt had “bad” pictures on it, I was surprised to see what I had never noticed before--that the prints on the bottom of the skirt were lovers: a man and woman with their hands placed strategically on each other’s bodies, and this motif continued all around the skirt.  I told him it was art and not to worry about it.  He seemed to accept that explanation, and I don’t think he ever told anyone else, because I kept wearing the skirt and never saw anyone else give it a second glance. 
I continued to wear this skirt,
even in Louisiana as evidenced in the staged photo above
 taken at LSUHSC Children's Center around 1989.
Detail from Indian print skirt
I still own the skirt, hanging in the attic!
The rodents we had were a never-ending source of interest in the classroom and school.  When the cafeteria ladies saw a mouse in the kitchen, they blamed our class.  We went back and counted our mice and assured them it was not one of ours.  One day a boy informed me that something was wrong with a mouse, and upon further examination, we discovered she had delivered babies and it was those tiny, ugly, bald bodies the boy had seen. 

I don’t recall what happened to the mice.  At some point I may have sent most of them back to the farm.  A couple came home with me for the summer, caught a chill and died. 
The story of Romeo, our class’ white rat, was much more poignant.  The whole class loved this friendly white rat, donated by a student.  We read the book The Rats of NIMH, and the children took turns taking Romeo home for holidays.  He stayed by himself at school most weekends.  One Monday Romeo wasn’t there when we arrived, having apparently escaped from his cage.  We searched all over the school and told everyone to be looking for him.  The cafeteria workers were less than thrilled to hear about his escape, because they figured he would head for the kitchen.  The children left surreptitious food trails in the hall leading back to our room, but nothing worked.  We finally figured Romeo had made his way to the outside. 

We left on Christmas break, and when we returned, a little girl found Romeo dead in his cage.  It appeared that he had returned to his familiar home over break, but we had long since stopped leaving food and water out.  The children were devastated, some of the girls were crying.  We put Romeo in a box and after lunch buried him on the edge of the school grounds.  I don’t recall if we had a ceremony for him or not, but he was mourned. 
It may have been after Romeo had passed, as we say in the South, that someone donated two long-haired gerbils to the class.  All went well for a while, but then they came down with some sort of illness.  The father of one of the students was a professor at the University of Tennessee vet school, so she asked if she could take them home for her father to doctor.  He was unable to save them, and thus ended the great rodent experiment at Cedar Grove Middle School in Knoxville, Tennessee.

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