It’s a snow day today! One of the great things about being a teacher- I don’t have to go outside in this crap. Since I have a little time on my hands, I thought I’d share one of my absolute favorite stories. This one comes from my previous class.
Show and tell is always a fun time for kids. They get to bring in fun things from home, personal objects, strange things they found. Or they forget and share whatever they found at the bottom of their backpack. In my five years in the classroom, I have had students share shark teeth, expensive jewelry mom didn’t know they took, rabbits, bones they found in the woods, siblings, bags of chips, sandwiches growing mold, rocks, bugs, and hair. None of these come close to what has since become known in my school as “The Hawk Incident” in my class.
The kid who brought in the share in question was one of those boys who just seem to embody everything about being an 8 year old boy. Wiggly, laughed a lot, loved sports and running and crashing into things, made hilarious comments when he shouldn’t have. He was so excited to share, and could barely contain himself when the kids who went before him shared. When it was finally his turn, he got up and scurried into the hall to get his item out of his backpack. He came back with a huge, proud grin on his face, and something in a Ziploc bag. He held it aloft, and we all got a closer look at what it was. No. I thought to myself. That can’t be what I think it is. It was, of course.
“This,” he stated solemnly, “is a hawk’s foot.”
The kids oohed, and leaned closer for a better look. It was huge, with hooked black talons and a shard of bone protruding from the end. My mind started racing. What do you do when a student brings in a severed, decaying animal part? “As you can see, it’s been burnt.” I’m sorry, a severed, decaying, charred animal part. “I found it on my street, and I used gloves to pick it up.” Ok, trying to be sanitary, good. “I think it’s a red-tailed hawk, because I know from what we learned about birds of prey this year that those are the only type of hawks that live in our area.” OK, connection to the science curriculum, not bad. “I don’t know how the foot got cut off, but I wanted to bring it in because you can really see the talons close up and they look cool. And when we saw the hawk during the birds of prey unit, you couldn’t see the talons real close up like this.” Wow, he really learned from that unit! Go him. Go me!
“I don’t know why it’s burned, either, but I think maybe after that big storm, the electric wires weren’t as safe, so maybe he landed on it and it zapped his feet and that’s what killed him and made his foot come off. So, I claim that the hawk got electrocuted, and my evidence is that the foot is charred and, um, off.” He ended with a firm nod. He’s using scientific terms! Awesome!
“Questions or comments?” A hand went up. “Where was the rest of it?” “It was right nearby. I was going to bring it, but I didn’t have a big enough Ziploc.” Thank you, kid’s mom, for not keeping 5 gallon Ziplocs in the house.
Another hand. “Can you pass it around?” “Sure-“
“Nope!” I cut him off. “Sorry guys.” A collective “awwww” went around the class.
When sharing ended, I had him put it on my desk so I could take a picture. One part of my brain realized that this was unsanitary and more than a little gross, but it was overridden. The teacher part of me was so proud of me for finding this, making a connection to the curriculum, and thinking like a scientist. The I-still-think-like-a-kid part of me was also excited- this was so cool! I would like to say I made a conscious decision to praise him rather than punish him, that I turned what could have been a disaster into a teachable moment, but the truth was, I thought it was just as neat as they did.
The other teachers felt slightly differently. While I was a little disappointed they didn’t feel the same joy in discovery, I did need to be reminded that no one wants to die of some sort of bacterial infection or avian flu from handling dead bird parts.
“But it’s in a bag.” I pointed out when my assistant recoiled in horror when she came near my desk.“He used gloves to pick it up.” I told the para-professional when she half jokingly suggested the kid who brought it may need to be rubbed down in lysol wipes. “But look how cool it is!” I said when a colleague mentioned her class-wide ban on bringing in dead things, whole or otherwise.
“You sanitized your desk after, didn’t you?” My assistant asked, eyeing the offending surface. “Of course.” Not yet. “He’s throwing it away, right?” The para added in. “Yes, he’s going to.” When he gets home, because I didn’t have the heart to make him and it’s back in his backpack. “And you reminded them what constitutes appropriate sharing?” “Absolutely.” By telling them to make sure anything dead is in a bag.
Yes, it was gross. But it was also cool. They were excited, they were engaged, they were making connections to the science curriculum and using scientific terminology. Isn’t that what we want, as teachers? After all, I may not have enough time to fit in science everyday, but there is always enough antibacterial soap to go around.
And here is my proof, in all it’s charred, decaying glory. Science!