My First Semester of School or Farewell Dear Tappetta!
"Mrs Sutliff! Come quick, Tappy's dead!"
That was not how I wanted to start my day. Only minutes before the first bell would ring, and I still didn't have everything ready for the science lab we were going to start. Barbie Bungee Jump was going to be a challenge to pull off, and I was flying by the seat of my pants. And now, my praying mantis was in trouble. Not good for me. You see, I am easily distracted, and my class pets have always been a top distraction. Worse yet, my students had come to realize that if they wanted to avoid listening to Mrs. Sutliff teach them how to find equivalent fractions, all they had to do was start a conversation about my class pets.
So naturally, I stopped surfing Teachertube for the Barbie Bungee Jump video I had planned to show my students and wandered over to the aquariums on a table by the one window in my room. Tyler* stepped back and jabbed his finger at the aquarium that houses my praying mantis, Tappy. I bent down and peered through the glass to see that the little guy was not dead, but he was close.
Tappy was lying on his side, one leg twitching feebly in the air.
"Oh dear," I said. "He doesn't look good."
This prompted half of my class to jump up from their seats and run over to see. Before I knew it, I was surrounded by 15 eleven-year-olds who all wanted to get a glimpse of my dead bug. My gut reaction was to ask them all to sit down so we could start class. But then I noticed that more than a few of my students looked just as sad as I was at the idea of my faithful praying mantis biting the dust. Literally. His face was shoved up against the dirt in his terrarium.
So I did the only thing I could think to do. I waited for all my students to pass by and pay their respects to our dying friend Tappy, and then I sat down on my stool at the front of the room and made this announcement:
Yes, dying is sad, tragic, unfair. Yes, I would miss my faithful carnivorous insect. But life goes on! We must push forward, and that meant Barbie Bungee Jumping.
I can't take credit for this video. Thanks for sharing it, A7Productions!
Life Goes On, But Not For Tappy or Barbie
So I got the kids settled down and focused on getting their data table glued into their science notebook, and I went back to Teachertube to get my video ready. I explained Barbie's problem: She needed to get to the bottom of the fire escape, and all she had was rubber bands. We watched the video. We talked about what NOT to do with the rubber bands and the Barbies. My kids set to work, doing trial tests to make predictions for how many rubber bands they would need to get Barbie to the bottom of the fire escape, a 600 cm drop.
All was going well!
That is, until Tyler's group tested a two meter jump and made a slight error in the number of rubber bands needed. Let's just say one of our Barbies didn't make it. I'm still not sure what happened, but her head popped right off. Good luck explaining that one to the girl who had let me borrow her Barbies.
After science ended, I taught reading, and then math started. I had forgotten about Tappy's declining health. That is, until Tyler checked his tank before fifth period math started. I decided it would be best to not go check on him then, so I launched my math exploration and began circulating around the room to help students find equivalent fractions using a number line.
Fifteen minutes later, I noticed that Tyler wasn't working on math. He was using my construction paper to make a little black box. One guess who it was for.
A Farewell to Our Faithful Bug, and a Surprise Discovery
My fifth period class is split between our lunch break. When the bell rang for lunch, I took a peek at Tappy. Sure enough, he was gone. I considered taking care of him so that the kids wouldn't have to see, but before I could do anything, I noticed that Tyler was still in the room. He brought his little black box over, and I saw that he had written a nice message on the lid.
Here lies Tappy Sutliff, the best preying mantes ever. We miss you! Love Mrs. Sutliff's 2010 class.
Silently, I moved Tappy from his tank to the little box.
"Mrs. Sutliff, are we gonna have a funeral?"
"I don't know, Tyler...."
"Please? We have to!"
"Just let me think about it, okay?" I struggled over what to do with the little paper coffin, and finally decided to just put it back in the tank. As I opened up the lid, I noticed that there was something else in there that wasn't there yesterday. It looked like a brown cocoon, about the size of a quarter. Now, what could that be? "I'll write you a pass to lunch, now, come on." And with that, I sent Tyler on his way, grabbed my lunch, and hopped online to do some research.
By the end of the lunch period, I was convinced that Tappy laid eggs before he died, and that would make Tappy... a she, not a he. When the students returned from lunch, I postponed our normal math discussion to have an impromptu funeral. I was surprised at how many students wanted to say something about Tappy.
"I still remember the day Mrs. Sutliff found you," one of my students said. "You guys remember how she disappeared before math class, and came running back into her room to grab the cricket cage, then ran back out again? And we all thought that she had lost her mind."
Several students nodded and laughed at that. I had found Tappy only a few short months ago. Another teacher had spotted him on the outside of the building and came to ask me if I wanted a praying mantis. I was so excited at the idea that I ran to the exit to catch him before he disappeared.
"Remember how we decided to name you, because you sat there tapping on the glass all day, like you really wanted to get out of your cage. I'm glad you're free now."
Kids say the darndest things, don't they?
Another student shared the excitement of watching Tappy eat. "Remember that time Mrs. Sutliff fed you and we all got to watch? It was so cool to watch you stalk that cricket and tear it's head off."
Okay, that was enough sharing.
I called the funeral to a close and finished by announcing that Tappy had laid eggs before she died. As can be expected with middle-schoolers, there was a huge uproar which included several students jumping out of their seats to go look, while other students pointed out that Tappy was no name for a girl. Best to change the name to Tappela or Tappina.
And that's how I was persuaded to change my pet's name after she died. Thank you for reading!
I teach 6th grade math, science, AND reading. Most middle school teachers have one subject area, but I have three. And it's my first year teaching. Needless to say, I've been very busy.
My intention was to write many hubs about my teaching experiences. Despite my good intentions, life and work happened, and I wasn't able to find much time to write. After my first semester of teaching, I have much to say and little time to say it. I wanted to write about all I learned, and share the fun stories from my classroom. For now, I have found time to tell Tappeta's story. Hopefully in the near future, I will have more time to write about Love and Logic and Inquiry-based math and Exploratory science. And the pure joy of creating lifelong readers.
*The names in this hub have been changed.