Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Bug

Teaching is always fraught with disturbing images, endless fears and boundless hope. You cannot teach without some sense of eternal faith that humanity is worth something, that we are each of us capable of infinite greatness, that we will accomplish much more than we ever dreamed possible.  You cannot teach, at least not effectively, without this true and utterly sincere belief that the children you teach will change the world in infinitely positive ways.  You simply hope that the future will bear out this truth in all its simplicity.

Which is why the bug was so very disturbing.  A tiny image, seared upon my brain forever.  I do not know how it came to end its life in our hallways, but I do know that its passing had such grave importance I shudder even now to remember.

To help you see this image, I must place you within my school setting.  I teach inside a three-floor elementary school building, with open doorways, a product of the open concept classroom of the 70s and 80s.  My classroom is on the second floor, and immediately across the hall from my doorway are two restrooms.  When my class takes a restroom break, we line up along the wall between the doors to the girls’ and the boys’ restrooms, girls on one side, boys on the other.  As the students exit the restroom, they line up on the opposite wall, right outside my classroom’s doorway.  These restrooms are used by three second grade classes and three kindergarten classes, each class made up of some 22-25 students.  Therefore, on any given morning, a full 150 tiny bodies may line up along those walls, waiting for their opportunity to pee.

I suppose if you are a member of the 5-7 age set, the moments spent waiting while 22 of your classmates attend to their bodily functions can be extremely boring.  It is hardly any wonder, therefore, that these children seek ways of entertaining themselves.  They know of course that talking and running and generally acting like its recess time can result in the swift fall of that consequence anvil teachers love to spout about.  Therefore, I suppose other opportunities must be sought, opportunities that are less obvious and as such, undoubtedly of greater value intrinsically.  After all, who can resist the danger of sneaking some revelry in right under a watchful teacher’s evil eye?

Despite knowing this, I will never forget the moment a child squealed “Ms. Culey!” and held out a tiny staple.  Staples in this hallway are a dime a dozen. The hallway is lined with bulletin boards which we are required to keep filled with student work.  Sadly, bulletin boards do not belong on the walls of a hallway that is frequently also lined with 5-7 year old bodies, bouncing up and down, waiting for their moment in the restroom. During any given restroom break, I will generally be offered anywhere from 1 to 6 items that have fallen from a bulletin board due to excessive movement on the part of my students.  And of course, as these items fall, so too fall the staples with which they were pinned to the bulletin board.

What made this staple so unusual was the tiny bug speared upon one of its spikes, looking much like some form of terrible scientific experiment, as if at any moment, the bug might begin to squirm in its death throws while its fascinated audience watched in glee.

I would like to believe that this staple simply fell to the floor at exactly the right velocity and angle, allowing it to spear this tiny bug in a moment of terrible timing and circumstance.  Sadly, the staple was found on the opposite side of the hallway from where the bulletin boards were.  In addition, the bug was so small that the spike of the staple had managed to move completely through its body, so that the bug appeared a permanent feature of the staple — or perhaps more accurately, the staple appeared a permanent feature of the bug’s body, with one side protruding from its belly, the other side from its back.

Perhaps the bug was already dead when a fascinated child decided to spear it so deliberately? But even if this were true, would that make this any better?  Whether it represents a complete disregard for the sanctity of life or simply that of death, he implications left me incredibly disturbed.

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