"Jeffery Flipper"

By N.J. Wise

Note: names have been changed to protect the guilty.  

As Christmas approaches, I find myself trying to decide whether I should introduce a pet into my second grade classroom family as a gift to my students.

The idea came to me when I recalled my own second grade pet experience. My very favorite teacher, Mrs. Walker, decided we would have pet mice in our classroom. Though my memory of second grade is spotty, I do remember one boy who was playing with one of “our” mice and it ran right up his pant leg! He wiggled and squirmed and giggled as it tickled its way around. I remember that Mrs. Walker thought she bought two females, but it turned out one was a male. In a real life “birds and bees” lesson, our mouse couple had 10 babies! My parents agreed to adopt one of the baby mice and allowed me to have my very own first pet.

As I strolled through the PetSmart in Muncie , I considered how my class would react to this kind of addition to our classroom. I thought about what a great learning experience it would be. My kids could have the opportunity to take care of something smaller and more fragile than them. They would be responsible for the health and comfort of another life. 

            Then I thought about my classroom pet fiasco from last year.

It started with Mrs. Green. Mrs. Green, my teaching neighbor, and I have no wall between our classrooms. She stormed over my room to scold Connie, my student, for jumping up and down and peeking over our fairly short closet cabinets into her classroom and whisper-shouting to one of her buddies who was supposed to be doing an assignment next door.

I never noticed this bouncing because I was doing the benchmark text level testing that we have to do at the end of the year one student at a time. I unfortunately have trouble navigating this testing process successfully (and by successfully I mean keeping the other kids under control while I am giving all my attention to one kid...a seemingly unattainable goal for me).

As I recovered from the Bouncing Whisper-Shouting Girl incident I hurried back to my horseshoe shaped table to finish the reading testing.

During this distracted-teacher-time, five girls in my class gathered around the triops aquarium.

A triops is a little crustacean that lives about a month. We raised ours from an egg to a one inch long adult. It looked prehistoric and came in a packet that touted the triops was around during dinosaur times. This made the boys in my class instantly fall in love with it and proclaim it to be a “he” and thus, the masculine voice overpowered the girls when deciding the name. As with any pet, the naming is quite important and evoked fervor of excitement. The children lovingly and jokingly named “him” Jeff Flipper .

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

 

I didn’t look to see what the five girls were doing by the aquarium because that area is also in our classroom library.  That is where they are supposed to go to pick out books and read for their reading work station. Children are constantly perusing around the book tubs so it was nothing out of the ordinary to have children milling around that area in my peripheral vision.  Between feeling flustered from my inability to keep bouncy girl from distracting another classroom and feeling pressure to finish a reading test, Micky came over to my table and urgently beckoned my attention, as I flash my note-card-on-a-popsicle-stick sign that says “Stop! I can’t talk to you now!” which really means “Go away! Can’t you see I’m busy?” She persisted, "Teacher! Someone just ate some triops food!" Then she named not one but five “eaters.”

I stopped my reading testing (how the poor girl could even read with all the ruckus is beyond me) and looked up, astonished, at Micky, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

I apologized to Testing Girl and I called the five suspects over to the horseshoe table.

As I faked a grimace and then a disgusted look, I told them how that wasn't smart to eat what essentially smelled and looked like fish food. Then, for a dramatic effect, I sent them to the office with a note I penned with serious consternation. I called the office after they left the room. I had a small audience of nosy, not-where-they-should-be second graders crowded around me at the phone so I turned toward the giant flower in the corner of my room near my computer so the kids couldn't hear me whispering to the office person. I warned her about the absurdity of the situation and that I just wanted her to let them know how unsanitary and stupid it is to eat animal food. I turned away from the kids because I was about to break into hysterical laughter while I was preparing the other adult in for her disciplinary role. It didn’t help that she was cracking up.

The class was on edge watching my every move. You really don’t know how much effort it takes for teachers to hold in the guffaw that would cause nightmarish levels of uncontrollable classroom excitement. We have to be good actors to keep a snowball of hyperactivity from consuming the room. A little laughter is okay, but sometimes the smallest chuckle leads to chaos. I managed to hold it in.

With a straight face and stern voice (as she reports it), the office lady gave them a big speech then she sent them back to the room to apologize to me for doing something they weren’t supposed to do and, more importantly, to apologize to Jeff Flipper for eating his food.

They each with utmost seriousness walked over to the aquarium one at a time and looked down at poor Jeffery Flipper, who they apparently thought would starve since they ate his food. Two of them had long, murmuring, one-sided conversations with Mr. Flipper. I imagined them to be professing their deepest regret for having eaten his fishy pellets. I also imagine that Jeffery whispered back that he’d be just fine and thanked them for saying sorry.

Shall I adopt a mouse, or a gerbil, or some other pet for our classroom family this Christmas? I do not know for sure. It’s a big commitment and a potential catalyst for classroom chaos. At least the food pellets are bigger so maybe I’d hear the crunch across the classroom when that first daring child just can’t control her curiosity any longer.

 

N.J. Wise is a second-grade teacher at an elementary school in east central Indiana .