Over the years I have had a few encounters with snakes. Unlike most women I don't run screaming for the nearest man to save me from the slithery serpents. (No, I walk up to the nearest man to ask them what kind of snake it is. See Snakes 1 #209 and Snakes 2 #220 if you want to see their less than manly reactions).
I happen to like snakes. Well, maybe like does not describe my feelings toward snakes, it is just that I don't dislike them. In fact I find them very fascinating creatures.
This incident happened when I was teaching at a newly opened residential school for behavior disordered youths. Students ranging from ages 14 to 16 were in my classroom all day and I taught every subject with mostly spit, air, and duct tape for materials. Therefore, for science we went on a critter hunt on the school grounds. The grounds were on about 10 acres and there was a small pond. Luckily for me there were lots of frogs and FROG EGGS. We gathered up numerous eggs and put them in an aquarium I had fixed made out of old door transoms I found in an attic of the school. With a large pan of water in the center and landscaping around the edge it looked like a small pond.
A funny thing happened on this hunt. One of my students yelled out, "Look, a two headed frog!" All the other students came running, as did I. Who wouldn't want to see a two headed frog. As it turned out, it was my first class on sex education. You see, the male frogs were smaller than the females and there was one tenacious little guy hanging on Ms. Frogy's back for dear life. That day, they learned a lot I hadn't planned on.
Each day we watched the eggs develop into tadpoles. One day I unlocked the classroom door in the morning to find the entire floor moving. Over the weekend the tadpoles had developed enough to hop out of the aquarium and onto the floor. When the students arrived they had a jolly good time with what was eventually called the "Great Frog Roundup" (somewhat like the frog round-up in Cannery Row. If you haven't read it or seen it you have missed a classic). There were frogs hopping all over the school section for days. A few we got to kinda dissect after they were stepped on. We learned a lot about frogs (and this was without a computer or a science book in the classroom).
Ok, you are probably thinking, "I thought this story was about snakes." Hold your horses there kiddo, I'm getting around to that. The above little excerpt is a kind of foreshadow of things to come.
Later on, long after the frog fiasco, we went out to look for other critters. This time we ran into a few snakes. We found two small black snakes, a stub nose and three garter snakes. We named them all (the stub nose was our favorite and we called him Charlie). I also learned a lot from the frog lesson and made a lid for the terrarium we re-landscaped. The students were allowed to handle the snakes and thanks to the town library we were able to get books about them.
Charlie was a neat snake. He loved to be handled and would bend his head over until he formed a hook and would hang from your finger. Then we would stroke him and he would quiver with delight.
Now, you have to know where this is going. But, I will tell you anyway. One evening the lid was left off the terrarium (who would have thunk it) and I forgot to check before I left. The next morning I went in my classroom and started my usual routine when I noticed the terrarium was empty. I gasped in horror as I had to jump a lot of hoops to be allowed to have the snakes after the frog debacle. Quickly I scoured every nook and cranny of the room. The door opened and in walked my students. In a whisper I informed them of the problem and we devised a scheme to covertly check the other rooms in the school. The students spread out and told anyone they encountered that they were on a scavenger hunt (and it was not shared that the only thing on that list was... snakes).
Within ten minutes of school starting a scream pierced the air. All ten of my students converged upon the the room from which the shriek came. When we entered the classroom the teacher was on her chair pointing to a snake that was slinking along the baseboard. One of the students grabbed Butch and we all scurried out of the room (after swearing her to secrecy). It didn't take long before another teacher came scurrying out of her room. Like Ghost Busters we intervened before she could blow the whistle and Harry was captured. We found every snake but Charlie. The kids and I were really bummed out.
Then the weirdest thing happened. I flopped down on a bean bag and said to the kids, "Too bad he's a snake. If he were a dog I could just call him. Here Charlie, here Charlie." Then one of the kids squealed and pointed, "Look." Out from the side of a bookshelf wiggled Charlie and he headed right for us. I scooped him up and we all gave him a welcome home stroke. To this day I believe that Charlie came because I called him... ... ... Ok, you believe what you want...... and I will believe what I want!
By the way I taught for 4 months like that until our books finally arrived. I called this my period of Socratic teaching. At first I was scared to death, but it turned out to be the most fun I have ever had as a teacher. And, all of the snakes were released back into their original environment before it got too cold for them to find a place to sleep for the winter.