Friday, February 20, 2009

Worm Killer

The school year of 2005-2006 went fairly well for me because Principal P. was persecuting other teachers including my colleague, Adila.

However, in May of 2006 I was called into her office without warning. I found three administrators and the parents of Douglas Doolittle. This was a little surprise party in which I was going to be accused of verbally abusing poor Douglas by calling him a “Worm Killer”.


During the Parent-Teacher Conference in February of 2006 Mrs. Doolittle had come in and told me that Douglas would be missing two months of school because the family had to return to their native country. She wanted to know what he would be missing. I told her that we would be working on the 8th grade Science Project which had come to be known as the Exit Project. Without it a student couldn’t graduate.

This was a problem, because Douglas had a learning disability and needed extra help. We had just used a water testing kit to compare NYC tap water and bottled water for acidity, chlorine, nitrogen level, bacteria, and other factors. Somehow in our conversation it came out that the Doolittle’s hometown had famous mineral springs. I told the mother that Douglas could bring back water from his hometown and we would use the same kit to test the water. I would then help him compare the hometown water with NYC water.

Granted, the Exit Project is supposed to be the CHILD’s idea, but I didn’t have time to help Douglas discover which project he wanted to do.

About two months later, Douglas appeared in school, but he didn’t come to my class. I saw him in the hallway, and asked him if he had the water from his country. He didn’t answer. By then I had 150 kids with science projects in various stages of completion, As I usually did at this time of year, I was coming in an hour before school and staying an hour after school to help kids with their projects.

A few days later, I found a note in my box from one of the guidance counselors. Mrs. Doolittle had called and wanted to know what Douglas had to do to finish his science project. I found the counselor and asked her what was going on with Douglas. He was never in my class, even though he was back in school, and now his mother wanted me to call her. It’s no longer a matter of Mrs. Doolittle and me talking about it. DOUGLAS NEEDS TO COME TO CLASS. I asked her to call Mrs. Doolittle back for me because I was really busy with the other 150 kids who DO show up to class and come in before and after school to get help.

Finally, it was time for the students to give their oral presentations. On the second or third day of the presentations Douglas appeared proudly bearing a very nice-looking project. I doubted that he had decorated the science board all alone, but that wasn’t my emphasis. I was more interested in the experiment and what the student had learned from it. Douglas was one of the last presenters. It turned out that he had not used the idea about the mineral water—that’s OK, it was just a spur of the moment suggestion. Instead he had investigated the effects of acid rain on worms.

Douglass explained how he had put poured water and then vinegar on a worm. When he put vinegar on the worm it had started to writhe and then died. He seemed to enjoy telling everybody about the worm’s final moments. Some of the kids said to me, “You said no experimenting on animals. Why did he get to kill a worm? I asked Douglas if he thought the worm would survive being doused with vinegar or did he expect the worm to die. Douglas said he thought the worm would die. “So what did you hope to learn by killing the worm” , I asked. Douglas didn't know. I told Douglas that we had agreed not to experiment on animals. I couldn’t accept the project because he had killed the worm on purpose, and for no reason. Douglas got very upset and ran out of the room.


So the meeting was the result of Douglas’s science project fiasco. Now let’s look at the wealth of evidence Principal P. anticipated getting from this incident.

1. Pedagogical Incompetence—this would be a stretch since 99% of my students had finished the Exit Project. But if we disregard that little detail, we can focus on how Moriah refused to call the mother back. We can show that poor Douglas had no help with his project and had to struggle through it on his own. It was incompetent of her not to accept the project.
2. Mental Disability—there you go. Is this teacher CRAZY or not? Can’t experiment on animals? It’s a WORM for godsake. It’s CRAZY not to accept the project.
3. Lack of Certification-No Cigar.
4. Absence from Work—No Cigar
5. Insubordination—No Cigar
6. Improper Remarks—“I can’t accept the project because you killed a worm” turned into “WORM KILLER”.
7. Other type of Chargeable Misconduct. ??????? Let's get her in here and see if we can get something else on her.

The parents had come properly prepared to speak to the Incompetent, Crazy, Abusive teacher. “What is wrong with killing a worm? Scientists do it all the time. Are you some kind of animal rights activist?”

“It’s against Chancellor’s Regulations to experiment on animals,” I replied. It was hard to keep from smiling as the administrators looked at each other uneasily. “There’s no such regulation!” Principal P. stated emphatically.

Oh yes there was. I showed it to them.

“But a worm isn’t an animal”, the Father said. Wouldn’t you kill a roach in your house if you saw one? I admitted I would, but it wasn’t the same to kill a roach for health reasons as to plan an experiment and purposefully pour acid on a creature for no other purpose but to watch it writhe and die.

Then I asked the parents about the water from mineral springs. They hadn’t been able to bring it back.

Ok. Why hadn’t Douglas come to class? I would have been glad to help him with his project. I had been working before and after school with other students. He would have been welcome to come. Nobody answered me.

Principal P.later questioned the rest of the students in the class. Everybody heard me say, “You killed a worm” Nobody heard me call him “Worm Killer”.

In the end Douglas did another science project and passed on to high school

In closing, I just want to say that I am not a strict animal rights activist. I just think that Middle School is a time to teach kids to value life rather than to kill things for no reason but to show your power over them.

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