Sunday, November 24, 2013

Teachable Moment

I may owe my fascination for natural history to my kindergarten teacher. She was a gifted artist and to this day I recall her very accurate chalkboard drawing of a “torpedo spider” (trapdoor spider). My high school biology teacher only reinforced my interests, even giving me a copy of Essig’s Insects and Mites of Western North America that I still treasure. So, I have the utmost admiration, respect, and love for teachers. A story shared recently on Facebook left me in utter awe. It is one thing to teach subject matter, but another to teach values, especially when confronted with a situation where you could easily react a different way.

© Olivia Kittle

Olivia Kittle teaches science at an elementary school in Ohio, but she is not terribly fond of spiders. She managed to keep her composure in brilliant fashion during a recent arachnid encounter, and relates the events in dramatic and inspiring fashion:

”I didn't particularly want a large spider on my desk all morning. Nope. I didn't plan for it and certainly didn't anticipate it. ....wasn't part of the lesson plan.

Middle of second period, I am standing in front of the room, teaching. I am mid-sentence when I see it. The spider is scurrying across the front of the room, albeit at a slow pace. I stop talking; the kids follow my eyes. They see it too.

Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock..... time stood still. TWENTY-FOUR pairs of eyes on me. Watching me. Studying me. ‘What will she do?,’ they collectively thought to themselves.

No big deal. I grabbed the first cupped item I saw, which happened to be the saucer from my pan balance. Trapped the spider. Found a spare habitat container. Grabbed a piece of paper, maneuvered the paper under the saucer, wrapped the sides of the cup with the paper, transferred the entire apparatus to the habitat, slowly removed the paper, and watched the spider.... do nothing. It just sat there, pleading for its life.

*Whew*. Never let 'em see you sweat!! When it was all over, we took a deep breath. Some kids were fascinated, others were noticeably terrified, and some were just downright curious.... BUT, we all admitted, the experience was exhilarating and a bit of an adrenaline rush.

..... Killing it would have been anticlimactic and a downer. Dead spiders are just squashed and lifeless. Nothing fun or thrilling about that.

"Just squash it", you say? Nah..... not with 24 pairs of impressionable eyes staring at me. That'd make me a bit of a hypocrite. Kids, I try real hard to be authentic. What you see is what you get.”

I am hoping that other adults who read this story stop and think of the examples they set for children when they encounter other life forms. How do we treat other organisms? Do we treat them with curiosity, respect, and reverence? Or, do we smite them with a shoe, shoot them, or otherwise communicate the idea that some creatures don’t deserve their place in the grand scheme of things?

We don’t get to choose what other species exist on the planet Earth with us. We can only choose how we think and behave. My hat is off to those who teach, by profession or passion or both, the difference. Bravo, Olivia!


  1. You were fortunate to be introduced to the non-charismatic fauna in such a way. In most cases teachers don't go beyond butterflies or lady beetles. Sadly, love of one of the iconic "poster children" doesn't move the children to love the creepy crawlers, or worse yet to value ecosystems.
    I have seen monarch lovers going after milkweed beetles and milkweed bugs with a vengeance. What makes them think that preserving the monarch is more important than preserving the entire milkweed fauna? Others plant the invasive introduced tropical milkweed and butterfly bush. They don't grasp the importance of ecosystems. Oh, sigh!

  2. As a teacher, I've been in her shoes, and not handled it nearly as well. Thanks for the reminder about the role we play!


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