Guinea Pig

A guinea pig lives in my classroom part time. I often take him home for a week or two to give him a break from the hustle and bustle of classroom life. He’s not a particularly friendly pig, it turns out. I bought him as a baby from a pet store last summer, where he was constantly harrassed by the hands of small children reaching in and poking him. So he comes with some emotional baggage, you could say, snappish and jumpy. He’s verbally social — loves to say hello — “Wheek, wheek, wheek!”  — loves treats like broccoli rinds, and loves to have you put your nose right up to his cage to say hello. But the pig prefers not to have physical contact with anyone. A prickly pig.

As an introvert in an extroverted world, I must say that I am a little bit like the pig. If I have too much time with the crowd, I am prickly. Too much noise and I become jumpy. Too much chaos, and I am ready to dive for my shoebox, too, or bury myself in a newspaper for a while — though at least I don’t EAT my newspaper like he tries to do.

Some kids are guinea pigs, too. They need a little less chaos, a little calmer environment. Sometimes the noisy joy of group learning freak them out and they dive into their shoe boxes and seek a place alone on the playground. I recognize them when they step into my room. And I try to give them what they need.

I used to think that party people made the best teachers because they could keep their energy up all day, even in the midst of the crowd. But we guinea pigs can be good teachers, too. We’re sensitive to the other pigs among us, and know how to give them space and hear what they have to say. And as long as we have a shoe box to go into now and then — i.e. enough prep time alone — we can be pretty social when we need to be. Wheek, wheek, wheek!

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