Education Opinion


By Anne Spencer — March 01, 2000 6 min read
There was nothing in our Teachers’ Procedures Manual about dealing with pigs in the classroom.

It was one of those delightful—read, rare—mornings when it looked as if lessons might run as planned. The children came in promptly at bell time, and there was only one quarrel about who had hit whom on the playground. There were no notes from home to say Johnny was going to Florida tomorrow and would I put together a week’s worth of work for him. The most disruptive child in the class was away. Today was going to be special. I might even end the day experiencing that self-esteem that everyone is always talking about.

During math, we worked on fractions. There was a lot of discussion about pies and how much of one we would like if we had the good luck to be offered a piece. Robert and Billy settled their argument about the best kind of pie relatively amicably, and there was no need to keep them in at recess to talk about how to be better friends.

We moved on to our group work, studying the behavior of mealworms. The little creatures would be changing into beetles in a few weeks. The children had designed experiments to find out whether the worms liked dark, dry, or moist conditions. I was helping Jennifer observe her mealworm climbing an incline when there was a knock on the door.

“See who it is, Matthew,” I said. Matthew sits near the door. He needs to be near the washroom.

Jennifer’s worm had just crawled over a Lego barricade when I heard an extraordinary noise, a loud squealing and squeaking so unusual that even I didn’t think anyone in the room could have produced it. I looked up to see Matthew staring intently. Everyone else stopped and stared, too.

Exciting as they are, mealworms could not compete with what we saw. In the doorway stood Mrs. Manalevitch, Jason’s mother, doing her best to control the wriggling and writhing of a very pink pig. I walked toward her. So did the rest of the class.

Perhaps “walked” doesn’t quite describe what the children did. I told them to go back to their desks. Then I dredged up my most polite smile from wherever it had been since “Meet the Teacher Night.”

“Yes, Mrs. Manalevitch,” I said. “Can I help you?”

“Didn’t he tell you?” she asked, grabbing the pig more tightly. It snorted wildly.

“Tell me?” I said. “No, I don’t think so.” I turned to Jason, who had moved to the back. “Did you tell me, Jason?”

“No, I forgot,” he said.

“That’s all right,” I said. “We all forget things sometimes.” I didn’t want to damage his self-esteem.

“Well, I’m very sorry,” said his mother. “He was meant to tell you. I thought the kids would all like to see Piggles. We’ve only just got her as our pet.”

I tried to look delighted.

“That’s wonderful,” I said. “I’m sure everyone would love to see her. I don’t expect many of us have seen a piglet so close up before.” One must exploit the teachable moment.

Piggles obviously intended that we should see her at even closer quarters. She gave one vigorous leap and was out of Mrs. Manalevitch’s arms and onto the classroom floor. Squealing recklessly, she straddled a piece of cardboard on which three mealworms were silently awaiting further instructions. Something thick and transparent dribbled from her mouth.

The children gathered around her, squealing in harmony and extolling her cuteness. The compliments must have been too much for her. She saw a gap in the forest of legs and darted through it into the middle of the room, where desks, chairs, and various mealworm-experiment structures blocked the way for an easy pursuit. And during the next few moments, there was a lot of pursuing as the children all took it upon themselves to catch her.

They would stop at nothing to retrieve the animal and bring her to safety. Climbing over the desks, shouting out Piggles’ location as she rampaged around the room, crawling between chairs to catch her unawares, using food hastily taken from lunch boxes to entice her, threatening her—they tried everything, all at once. Jason’s mother stayed at the door. She was leaving it all to me as any sensible parent would when confronted with 25 children and a pig. I felt rather sorry for the mealworms. Most of them had been trampled underfoot by now. I resolved to have a follow-up lesson on how we should treat wildlife, however small.

Meanwhile, I had to get the class under control before someone saw the chaos, assumed there was a fire, and set off the alarm. I thought I would really like the director of education or some such important person to face one of these situations every now and again. There was nothing in our Teachers’ Procedures Manual about dealing with pigs in the classroom. The powers that be thought instructions about coping with terrorist attacks were more important. Yet as I looked at the scene before me, I thought the two had a lot in common.

First, I had to get the mother out of the way. I sent her to the staff room for a coffee. “It’ll be all right,” I said. “We’ll soon have her for you. The children are enjoying her so!” I presented a perfectly calm façade, as if this type of thing was all in a day’s work.

Once the door was shut, I could get to work. I rang my desk bell. Most of the children stopped in their tracks just long enough for me to command, “Get to your seats!” They did.

Piggles had the coast clear. She snuffled around on the floor and probably ate a few mealworms.

“Now,” I said, “Jason, you will get your coat, and with Billy’s help you will try to wrap it around your pet so that she will be easier to pick up. Everyone else will stay in their seats.” I thought Jason would be the best bet. He knew the animal, and if anyone’s coat was to be dirtied or ripped it should be his.

I had to admire the stealthy way he and Billy crept up on her from behind. Jason threw the coat over Piggles’ head. Billy grabbed her back legs. The pig tried to wriggle out of their hands, but there was nowhere for her to go. The boys did an excellent job, and I made a note to give them each a sticker for their “star” cards. I might even mention them in the school newsletter: “Hats off to Jason and Billy for catching a pig in our class so efficiently.”

“Bring her up to the desk,” I said. I had grabbed one of the blue boxes we use for recycling. It was just the right size to contain Piggles. The boys laid her in it, and she crumpled into a pink heap, grunting quietly.

“Thank you,” I said. “You can go and fetch your mother now, Jason.”

I turned to the rest of the class. “While he’s gone, the rest of you can clean up this room. See if you can find any of the mealworms you all seem to have forgotten about. And you can come over here a few at a time to look more closely at Piggles in a calm, responsible manner.”

The students began to pick up the cardboard, the centicube building blocks, the sandpaper, the magnifying glasses, and the other paraphernalia from their experiments. I held the pig firmly in the box so that they could look at her more carefully. When Jason’s mother returned, she saw a well-ordered classroom, the desks and tables right way up, and children dutifully picking up or tidying materials.

“They’ve really learned a lot,” I smiled. “Such an experience for them. Thank you so much for bringing her. Let’s all give Mrs. Manalevitch a clap, shall we children?” Everyone clapped. I had to hold Piggles down firmly as she became agitated again. “And Piggles so loves her blue box,” I said cheerily. “Perhaps she’s due for a recycle!” I grimly thought of bacon sizzling in a hot pan, but my smile was pure teacher goody-two-shoes. Mrs. Manalevitch glowed as she acknowledged her contribution to the education of the nation’s children and said she’d bring in Piggles any time I wanted.

“That would be lovely,” I said. “I’d appreciate your letting me know just a little in advance, though, so that we can be quite ready.” I pulled the box toward her. “Would you like someone to help you out with her?” I asked. “Perhaps Jason and Billy. They have such a way with her. You must be proud of Jason.” Mrs. Manalevitch glowed again. The morning hadn’t been a complete failure.

“Say goodbye to Piggles,” I said. The students waved and cried, “Goodbye, Piggles.”

It all ended rather well. Except for the mealworms. I thought I would put “massacre” on our next spelling list, and we’d have a discussion.