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Back in the Olden Days …

Once upon a time, when schools were much less regimented than they are now, folks entering my 5th grade classroom often found themselves momentarily confused — apparently, to hear it described, the phenomenon was rather like one of those dreams where you open the door to one place, yet enter another.

It was the beginning of a brand new year and I was introducing the students to their new math books. The door opened and the principal walked in. It was my second year working for him and I was used to him often wandering through the classrooms, so I just kept teaching. He paused at the bird cage and greeted the parakeets. He stopped briefly at all three hamster cages, and all three fish tanks. He hunkered down at both aquariums. The trantula he took in stride, but when Iggy, the iguana, spit at him he backed up just a bit.

At that point he had made a full circut and was back at the door. He paused to look at me, so I paused to look at him. Straight-faced, he drawled, “I find myself wondering: will this be a fifth grade classroom, or Ms. A’s petting zoo?” Completely deadpan I answered, “Yes.”

As he turned to leave the room I saw a smile.

Quilly is the pseudonym of Charlene L. Amsden, who lives on The Big Island in Hawaii. When she is not hanging out with Amoeba, she is likely teaching or sewing. Or she could be cooking, taking photographs, or even writing. But if she's not doing any of that, she's probably on Facebook or tinkering with her blog.


  1. Cute story, Quilly-Sister. Must have been fun for the kiddies. (Of course, they should skip petting that one with all the legs). I’m thinking you no longer have your zoo – since your reference to the ‘olden days’ and remark about when things weren’t as ‘regimented’-that’s too bad.

  2. I think every kid remembers those teachers who had a classroom full of rodents and creepy-crawly things. Inicidentally, those were also the teachers that I seem to remember as just a little bit crazy, but it was always the best kind of crazy. Those are the teachers that know how to hold a kid’s interest and spark their curiosity.

  3. oh i would have loved to be in your class honey..i love parkeets..did they keep quiet or verse out some silly rambling in the middle of class? the kids must have loved the entertainment..Keka’s class this yr has a bunny, Kipper..she comes home happy everyday with stories of what he did today…thank you for giving the kids that joy hon..

  4. Yes you were a bit crazy, the kind of crazy teacher someone always remember fondly. The kind of crazy that holds a student’s affection for the rest of their lives!

  5. It is strange, I remember when Ana was in grammer school in California there was always a hamster, and there was silk worms, and even a tarantula, but since we came to the south, I have not seen one pet in any classroom…….I wonder why?

    That is a lot of animals to care for, but I bet the kids loved it……..

  6. Jackie — the zoo is gone, but the fond memories remain.

    Rob — I resemble those remarks. You know, I still have students coming back to look for me after 10 years?

    Chana — I gave the birds to a parent. As soon as I got the kidfs quiet the birds would start, then I’d get the birds quiet and the kids would be chirping …

    Jan — I would be content with that kind of fame, just for the sake of knowing I made a difference.

    Nessa — aren’t they, though?

    Nea — can you say lawsuit? Trantulas are poisonous, they must go. Iguanas carry salmonella, they must go. Birds are filthy creatures whose fecies carry many hazards, they must go. Hamsters have fur, which is an allergin; besides, they bite so they must go. And the fish? I took them home for the summer and the cats ate them.

  7. You kiddin’ me? As a student of about that age, I “midwifed” at a hamster birthing, tended most of the menagerie at one point or another … and I wonder if they ever cleared the building of the mice I, um, accidentally released …

    These days, I’d be in jail, with the key tossed. And we wonder why our children (to say nothing of our adults) are out of touch with nature … which, as a natural scientist, is damned galling.

    Our institution is debating whether to keep our week-long enrichment program for talented high school junior interested in oceanography. Too elitist … no way to allow these kids out of the classroom lest their test scores suffer … doesn’t fit mandated curricula …


  8. It makes me so sad to see these kinds of stories as “old memories”. You’re the kind of teacher that inspires students to excell, think, dream and succeed. That can’t be done just with books, it takes personality and props. How do we make a change?

  9. OC — one of the reasons I had to remove the hamsters and have never replaced them is the pod-classrooms we have here. When (not if) the hamsters get free they destroy stuff that belongs to others.

    Then there’s the people themselves. A few years back I was after school gradign papers, and so was Mr. G, next-door. I heard him screaming bloody murder and went charging into his room expecting to find his life in peril. He was standing on his desk freaking out over a tiny white mouse.

    I was less than sympathetic. “Your thumb is bigger than that mouse!” I scolded. He replied, “My thumb doesn’t have teeth and beady pink eyes.” I wanted to trap the mouse humanely, but the janitor called the exterminators in and their poison worked over night.

    As to enrichment, if it isn’t tested, it isn’t valued.

    SmileyMamaT, come back anytime!

    Kat — burn the test; let me teach!

  10. OC — today’s man, especially those growing up in the city, aren’t in the same caliber as the men I am used to. The women are a bit different, too. I am living in a foreign land.

  11. Dr. John — you weren’t far wrong — most of them are — or at least they seem to be.

    Silver — distraction is not necessarily a bad thing. I’ve written a couple of my day dreams down and sold them.

  12. Ha ha…love your posts!!! Why do I get the feeling the principal wanted to see the animals as a way to get away from the people he dealt with everyday? I always went to my dog when I was stressed….

  13. Doug — how did you sneak in here without tripping my email alert? And I do miss that kind of teaching.

    Lori — is that why he spent so much time in my room? And I thought he was just keeping an eye on the school’s worst juvenile deliquent. (No, not me, a student!)

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