The Insect Incident
“Good morning, class.” Josie smiled, but her heart beat out of her chest. “Today, we’re going to learn about insects.”
Twenty first graders erupted into a volcano of chatter, sitting crisscross on the floor in front of her.
Mrs. Randall, the principal, sat primly in the rear of the classroom, scribbling something down on a piece of paper. Had Josie done something wrong or was her boss acknowledging her use of a learning target?
While she normally allowed her students to express their excitement, this was Josie’s first formal observation, and she wanted to make a good impression.
She held her hands above the students. “Shhh… I know you all want to see the insects, but we need to learn a couple of things about them first.”
Josie had spent five hours of her Saturday setting up the butterfly enclosures, carefully attaching the chrysalis pods to the top of the netting. Her teammate, Ms. Barker, had been teaching for twenty-five years. She warned Josie about Mrs. Randall’s ability to put first-year teachers through boot camp. Many had left the profession in tears.
Taking in a deep breath, Josie uncovered the poster she created on the floor of her apartment the week before. It detailed the life cycle of a butterfly—a perfect circle on the poster board. She had bought a new package of markers to create the masterpiece.
The students resumed their chatter when they realized they’d be learning about butterflies. Josie glanced at the clock and back at Mrs. Randall. Her pen moved quickly across the paper on the clipboard.
“Right.” Josie smiled at her students. “I need your attention up here. A butterfly is a magnificent creature. It goes from an egg, to a caterpillar, to a chrysalis…”
“Miss Jackson! Miss Jackson! What’s a cri—so—lis?” Hunter waved his hand in the air, sitting up on his knees. He was prone to asking questions without being called on.
“Great question, Hunter.” She paused, looking back at the principal. “Please remember to wait until you’re called on next time. A chrysalis is the place in the butterfly’s life cycle where the magic happens.”
There were a bunch of oohs and aahs from the students.
Josie crouched down to their level and used a quiet voice, as if she were telling them the mysteries of the universe. “Within the chrysalis, the caterpillar is transformed into a butterfly.”
“How?” Hunter piped in again.
“It’s God, dummy.” Elizabeth glared at Hunter. “My mommy told me that’s how babies are born, too.”
Josie stood back up. She expected to see a horrified look on Mrs. Randall’s face, but instead there was a smirk. The old devil wanted to see how the newbie was going to talk herself out of this situation.
Straightening her back, hands on her hips, Josie drew in another deep breath. “It’s a miracle of nature, Hunter. And so are babies, Elizabeth.” To divert any further questions, she hurried over to the counter to the enclosures. “We are going to care for our butterflies until they are ready to be free.” Josie lifted one of the habitats and carried it to the front of the class. She removed the covering. Two butterflies, that hadn’t been there on Saturday, clung to the apple slices she’d placed on the bottom.
Josie pointed out the chrysalis attached to the top of the enclosure. “A butterfly is still growing and changing inside.”
“One of the chrysalises died!” Rachel pointed to a chrysalis on the floor of the cage.
Josie bit into her lip. What was she supposed to do? Ms. Barker had said they needed to be attached to the top to form correctly. “Don’t worry. I’ll fix it.”
Inside one of her cabinets, Josie found a hot glue gun. She plugged it in to let it heat while the students observed the butterflies. If she fixed the chrysalis, she was sure to get high scores on her observations. But what if she took the students outside to set one of the live insects free? That was sure to put an exclamation point on a perfect lesson.
She tapped her fingernail on the counter, waiting for the gun to heat. The children crowded around the butterflies, pushing and shoving, trying to get a better look. Josie unplugged the gun and crossed the room to crouch beside the enclosure.
“Move back, I’ve got a hot glue gun.” She stuck her hands through the netting, careful not to release the two butterflies. Applying a dot of glue to the top of the cage, she reached down and pinched the chrysalis between her fingers then held the tip of it in the glue.
Twenty pairs of eyes watched in awe and it was quiet at last.
In the hushed atmosphere of her first-grade classroom, Josie dared to speak. “Do you think we should release one of the butterflies?”
“Yes!” the students called out in union.
Josie glanced back at Mrs. Randall feeling elated with her performance, expecting to see joy on the principal’s face. Instead, the woman hid all emotion, her lips set in a straight line. Josie would show her. This was going to be her magnum opus—her masterpiece.
Skipping and jumping, the students herded out the side door to the playground. It was a beautiful fall day and Ms. Barker’s class was out for recess. The more the merrier, thought Josie. She was elated to show, not only the principal, but her teammate what she was capable of—providing the students with learning, joy, and excitement.
Seeing Josie carrying the enclosure, many of the first graders stopped what they were doing to witness the culminating moment of her lesson.
“This butterfly will continue its life, by finding a mate, laying eggs, and starting the circle again.” She had to speak loudly over one of the lunch bells.
Mrs. Randall sat at one of the picnic tables; her pen never seemed to stop.
“What shall we call her, class?”
Many hands shot up.
“Betsy—Rosie—Bumblebee—Dora—Emily—Kate.” The list went on and on.
“I think we should name our butterfly, Ann.” Josie put on a huge smile and looked directly at Mrs. Randall. “After our principal.”
The children cheered. What a perfect ending.
Josie reached into the enclosure, coaxing one of the butterflies to the opening. It flitted to the outside of the netting then took flight above us. Tears threatened to fill Josie’s eyes with the beauty of the apex of her lesson.
But just when she was ready to take a bow, a bird swooped down from above and swallowed the butterfly whole. The wretched creature flew off with her A+ lesson in its mouth.
Students were reduced to tears around her. Ann was dead.
Knowing the perfect lesson was reduced to a pile of bird poop, Josie managed to calm the students down. She gave Mrs. Randall a half-smile and said, “Tomorrow, we’ll learn about insect adaptations.”
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