Sunday, January 31, 2010

Story For Another Day

Snake in the Class

I won't keep you in suspense. While my eggplant parm bakes and my onion soup simmers, I will take you back in time perhaps 30 years ago or so when I was still relatively young in my teaching career.

As I recall, it was a class of all boys--auto body students, if I am not mistaken. I had them in the afternoon, perhaps an hour before school let out, so they weren't exactly in the best frame of mind for English class. But, I taught them, and, I suppose, they learned.

One of the boys--I'll call him Joe--came into class one afternoon carrying a pillow case. "I have my pet snake with me today," he said. "I had to keep him in this pillow case in my other classes. Do you think I could let him stretch out on my desk for a while?"

The other guys kind of tittered and covered their mouths, waiting for me to scream or something. But I had a trick up my sleeve--I am not afraid of snakes. In fact, I kind of like them. "What kind of snake is it?" I asked.

Joe's eyes widened as the room grew silent. "It's a rainbow boa."

Knowing full well that boas are generally pretty quiet if they've been handled a lot, I said, "OK, but keep an eye on him, and I don't want anybody fooling around about this. If you and the snake disrupt the class, you'll have to put him back in the pillowcase."

Joe grinned, reached into his pillowcase and pulled out a glossy, soft brown snake, perhaps a bit under three feet long. He stretched it out on his desk while all the other students "oohed, and aahed. " I complimented him on what a beautiful snake it was and settled everyone down for the class lesson.

The student sitting next to Joe--how about calling him Bill--was totally distracted by the reptile. He took his pencil and with the eraser, gave the snake a little poke.

"Stop that, Bill," I warned. "Leave the snake alone."

Well, Bill, being a teenage boy, simply could not leave well enough alone. As soon as I moved away, he started poking the snake again. It all happened in a split second. The snake reared up, struck, and bit Bill solidly in the meat of his hand, right below his thumb!

"It bit me! It bit me!" Bill screeched.

I hurried over to see two distinct fang makes in Bill's hand. I'm pretty calm in emergencies, so I just said, very quietly, "Well I told you to leave him alone. Now look what's happened. I guess we'll have to send you to the nurse."

Joe hastily stuffed the poor snake back in the pillowcase while Bill looked on in growing panic. "It's not poisonous, is it? Am I going to die?"

Now, I know my snakes well enough to know that a boa is definitely not poisonous, but I wasn't going to let on. After all, Bill had gotten what he deserved and I figured he really needed to learn a lesson. "Gee, I don't know," I said, but I'm pretty sure the nurse will know. Here I'll send someone down with you just in case and she'll take care of you."

Bill and his escort vanished from the room, with Bill taking the lead. At this point, I'm not quite sure what happened in the classroom, but Joe was keeping his mouth shut, that's for sure. It was pretty clear his snake had never bitten anyone before and even he wasn't quite confident in the consequences.

Class went on for another fifteen minutes or so, and then, still a bit pale and nervous, Joe came back to the room with some bandaids on his hand.

"Well," I asked, "What did the nurse say?"

Joe grimaced, "She told me she didn't know if the snake was poisonous either, but she said she figured we'd know for sure in a half hour or so."

I have a feeling that was the last time Bill ever poked a snake.

I reminded the school nurse of this story years later, and she denied she'd ever do something like that to a kid, but I didn't believe her. Sometimes you just forget those moments of genius when you work in a school.

I never have.


  1. Just stumbled across this blog, and the story sounds awfully familiar. My class was a fan of bringing pets to school- like the snake in an ice chest and the possum in a blanket. The vice principle forever mocked that girl with the possum at school assemblies, which was a bit cruel, if you ask me.

  2. The old "Do as you would be done by" lesson. Awesome!

  3. Funny story. I'm glad you were the teacher and not me. I'm terrified of snakes and have been since I was a child. Bill got what he deserved though, bet he never poked another snake.