Although I knew it was inevitable, I have maintained a foolish hope that perhaps this time would be different. There is a crucial hinge between optimism and foolishness, and it seems I swing toward the idiot’s side more often than I care to admit.
Because I’ve chosen blissful ignorance over reality, I was startled when a hornet flew into my classroom yesterday morning. It happens at least once a year, but I’ve been lucky so far this spring and we’ve been insect-free except for the stupid fruit flies that love the rotten things kids abandon on the top shelves of their lockers in the hallway. With only nine teaching days to go, a yellow striped intruder infiltrated the otherwise relative peace of my classroom, and things got a little hairy.
I’ve taught junior and senior high school for six years. I control three dozen teenagers, often cited as the most dangerous mammal on the planet, at a time without giving it a second thought. Sadly, when insects are involved, all bets are off.
“There’s a BEE in here!” one of my grade nine girls shrilled at shortly past nine-thirty yesterday morning. Actually, it was one of the boys who pointed out the uninvited guest, but he was so agitated by the critter that his voice raised three octaves.
Cue immediate bedlam.
In the interest of total disclosure, I am terrified of wasps. They love me, seem to be inevitably drawn to my hair, and I get stung on the neck or shoulders at least once most summers. The thought of one in my classroom made me more than a little bit antsy, but as the adult in charge, I needed to maintain control over the situation. People wiser than me have stated that teachers are closely related to actors, and I assure you I gave an Oscar-worthy performance yesterday.
I was smooth. I was cool. I was glad I had visited the restroom at lunch so I didn’t need to worry about wetting myself. After all, if a teacher wets herself, she has no choice but to transfer to another school. Some things never blow over, and loss of bladder control in front of a group of teens is one of those things.
In any flying insect situation, there are always two main groups of kids. Group A (the hysterics) consists of the criers, the screamers, and the ones quivering with terror in (or under) their desks. Group B (the heroes) is the source of concern in these situations. While Group A definitely provides serious drama and entertainment, Group B is the one that can get people hurt. The heroes, eager to prove themselves or to cover up their secret alliance to Group A sentiments, immediately leap into action like a horde of Slyvester Stallone stunt doubles in a jungle of danger.
“I can kill it!”
“You guys are babies. It’s no big deal,” comments another, sounding superior.
“No, I will kill it. Just one good smash!” shouts the kid flailing his binder over his head.
“Here, use my shoe.”
“Pfffft, I’m totally not afraid. Just wait for it to land, and BAM! Game over.”
“Here it comes! I’ll just–” At least two kids clamber atop their chairs, prepared to go into battle with literature text books and someone’s sweaty sneaker. Much like the wasp, the fact the sneaker presents far more peril than the insect flies over their heads.
“SIT DOWN!” (This part is me, volume level seven of ten.) “This is spring. Wasps aren’t belligerent in the spring like they will be in September. Just get your butts in your chairs, keep your voices down, and ignore her.”
“But I can kill it! I’m the master of killing bugs!”
Using my best teacher voice, I continue. “You will kill nothing. You’re going to agitate her by swatting, and then we’ll have trouble.”
“What if someone’s allergic?”
“Yeah, if I don’t kill it, and someone gets stung and dies, you’ll get sued.”
“Yeah. Someone might die.”
“Sued! Yep. Hope you have a good lawyer.”
“Yeah! Totally. Let me kill it!”
“Um, folks,” insert well-practiced teacher eye roll here, “I don’t exactly have much worth suing for. Besides, no one in this classroom is allergic to stings. ”
“How do you know that. I should kill it. Look, it’s June and my binder is full of stuff. It’s so heavy. One smack–”
“No one is allergic. I. Know. Everything. Sit down, please.”
“Yes, that’s exactly what you should sit on.”
“We vote kill the bee! You’re totally outnumbered.”
“Right! There’s one of you, and there’s like,” the kid starts to count, “there’s like a…whole bunch more of us!”
“This is not a democracy. Leave her be.”
“Someone’s gonna get stung!”
“We need to kill it!”
This is where I borrow a line from my esteemed father. “Not one of you smells like a flower. She has no interest in you. Back to The Book Thief.” Three or four members of Group A whimper. One gags a little. The ranks of Group B grudgingly return to their desks, cracking knuckles and flexing muscles in anticipation of me changing my position on insect warfare.
I continue with the lesson, but thirty-three pairs of eyes are latched to the wasp as she flits from one florescent light to the next. They’re not exactly learning, but at least no one is messing with the potential stinger. I try to relax, but every time the wasp so much as twitches a wing, the chorus of hysterics and heroes start again.
The best part? There are three blocks each morning at my school, so I got to trip through this whole song and dance with both my grade tens and elevens. Interestingly, the only difference is the length of the heroes’ arms as the kids get bigger.
I need one of those electric fly swatters.
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