Recalling that squirrel in the box

Guest column by Catherine Kopp
Posted 8/20/20

Covid 19 has educators facing a serious risk to the health and safety of their students and themselves. As a retired teacher after 46 years in the classroom, I now have the privilege of being a …

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Recalling that squirrel in the box

Posted

Covid 19 has educators facing a serious risk to the health and safety of their students and themselves. As a retired teacher after 46 years in the classroom, I now have the privilege of being a supervisor for student teachers as they ready themselves for their entry into the field of education. I am often asked if I have ever experienced anything like the corona virus in my career. I reply that I have not, but there were other challenges long before this.

It was my first year teaching in a small New England town in 1973. During recess, a shy, soft-spoken girl came to me and asked if she could bring her pet squirrel for Show and Tell. She told me Mr. Squirrel lived in the trees behind her house. Being naïve and never imaging that she would catch the darn thing, I told her she could.

Several weeks later, she showed up to the classroom looking somewhat bedraggled with a huge smile on her face and holding a box. Having forgotten our earlier conversation, I asked her what was in the box. It immediately became obvious when the squirrel poked his head out of the hole he had been furiously chewing during his journey to school. Before I could respond, Mr. Squirrel squeezed the rest of his body out of the opening and jumped onto the nearest object, one of my sixth grade boys who had been standing nearby. The fearful beast clung to the boy’s shoulder and bit him on the neck. This resulted in screaming and panic from all as the unwelcome visitor jumped from desk to desk.

Alerted by the chaos, my teammate, a former Marine, charged into the room and ordered everyone to get into the hall and shut the door. We did as we were told. I sent the ‘bitten child’ to the nurse and within minutes, the door opened and we were instructed to return. We noticed that all the windows in our third floor classroom were now wide open. The young girl asked where her squirrel was. She was told by my teammate that Mr. Squirrel was most likely ‘on his way home’.

The boy returned to the classroom with a bandage on his neck and a limp to his step. It was the early 70’s. Back then the school nurse just told him to wash the bite with soap and water. She then put a Band-Aid on his wound and sent him back to class. He flaunted the bandage like one would a Purple Heart for he had been wounded in the action. I still do not know how the limp came about. I think it was just to add to the drama.

COVID-19 is a Squirrel in the Box. There is no band-aid that can be applied. One person carrying the virus into a room can endanger the health and safety of all. Right now there is no window to remove the threat. It will require a strong partnership with the staff of each school and the community they serve to control this hidden danger. I respect and admire the dedicated educators as they return to meet the diverse needs of their students both remotely and in the classroom while being wary of any holes in the box.

Catherine Kopp is a former teacher with 46 years of classroom experience and is presently a supervisor of elementary student teachers in Wheat Ridge and Arvada for the University of Northern Colorado.

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