Not all middle school classes are created equal. Teaching grade eight requires nerves of steel. Teaching grade eight Art requires the reflexes of a prima ballerina and the fortitude of a linebacker. And teaching mandatory grade eight Art to the big guys at the back table who are in grade eight for the third time takes a special kind of crazy.
And then throw in a chicken.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. It was my first teaching job, and I was far from home— a city kid who found herself in a small town school. In a small town where my colleague, having lived and worked there for thirteen years, was still considered the “new guy.” So it was pretty much a given that I was going to be subjected to some sort of initiation ritual.
For that reason, I wasn’t really surprised when I came back from lunch one day to find a small “house,” cleverly constructed out of a cardboard box, sitting on the floor next to the table at the front of my art room. The little house had a cut-out “doorway” over which was mounted a construction paper sign sporting the word “Chucky.” Sitting on the table was a construction paper booklet with pages cut out in the shape of a chicken–its craftsmanship clear evidence that the kindergarten teacher was in on the prank. The booklet was an instruction manual, with information about how to care for “Chucky.” On the chalk board at the front of the room, an anonymous hand had printed “Hi! I’m Chuck! I want to stay please.”
My initial response was: “Oh isn’t this cute. They’ve even gone to the length of tying one end of a piece of string to the table leg and sticking the other end through the doorway into the box so that I will think there’s actually a chicken in there. How amusing.”
Did I mention I was a city kid?
I don’t know what finally prompted me to crouch down and look, but when I did peer into the darkness, I discovered to my amazement that Chucky was real.
Now, mandatory grade eight Art is a classroom management challenge at the best of times. But mandatory grade eight Art right after lunch and with a live chicken strutting its stuff around the front of the room is… well…interesting!
It was a long and somewhat surreal afternoon. Fortunately the Art room came with an ample supply of old newspapers, because Chucky was most definitely not house-trained. As the afternoon wore on, I began to feel a little anxious about what I was supposed to do with Chucky when the school day ended. I mean he was cute and all, but was I supposed to take him home?
My fears were allayed shortly after the final bell as, one by one, the perpetrators appeared in my doorway to ask how my afternoon had gone. Chucky went home with his rightful owner–a high school science teacher with a hobby farm just outside of town. I got to keep the house, the instruction manual, and a handful of feathers that I still have, pressed into the pages of a photo album.
And the warm feeling that comes of being well and truly welcomed by one’s peers.