August for us teachers marks the end of summer and the beginning of the back to school madness. As you begin your teacher prep for the upcoming school year, I wanted to share a lesson I have learned about students and cats.
We have a dog and two cats. All three of them are rescue animals- and we got them in thefollowing order: Taylor (orange cat),Mouky(gray cat-pictured on the right), and Hurley (border collie/Aussie dog mix). We picked out Taylor because he was talkative and fluffy. We picked outMoukybecause, in his picture, he was lounging in his litter box, one elbow hanging out, and his bed was right next to the litter box, empty. “That,” we said, “is our cat.”
When we first adopted Taylor and Mouky from separate foster homes, they quickly came out of their shells. Taylor proved himself to be a hedonistic glutton who sees no purpose for human hands other than to be petted. Mouky is a chirping goofball, who engaged Taylor in what we call “teddy bear fights,” with Mouky exhibiting ninja-like fighting skills. At first, we were pretty sure Taylor had the brains of the two- and told anyone who pretended to listen about Mouky’s goofy escapades.
We were wrong.
As we have moved forward in years of being these cats’ companions, we have moved 90 degrees in our assessment of Mouky. Sure, he’s a goofball, but he takes more risks and can manipulate us into getting what he wants. He gets the hierarchy in the house. Mouky understands to run away from the toddler who is waving his hands excitedly at him. He is nimble, a good hunter (don’t ask how we know this), and is capable of figuring things way beyond what we would have ever expected when we first adopted him. He didn’t leave my side when I was first pregnant – almost guarding me (in fact, we are pretty sure he knew before we knew).
Just recently, I found out that Mouky is, indeed and officially, a rare breed of cat – a Nebelung (see picture on the left). Descriptions of this breed suit Mouky as well – loyal, intelligent, a bit afraid of strangers, but even tempered and sweet. This breed even tends to let companions know if something isn’t right – litterbox, out of food or water, etc. That’s Mouky’s job around here, too.
After I learned about Mouky’s “rare breed,” I’ve been looking at him differently today. Almost overdoing the affection. Wanting him near me – as if to say, “the special cat likes me best.”
If you are still reading, you are probably wondering why I needed to share this with you all, on this blog. For me, this Mouky learning was an education in a few ways. One, he’s not a mutt, like his household brothers. Two, he’s rare, and it’s pretty cool that we have him as our companion – that he’s even cooler than we thought.
And three, (I still haven’t learned this very valuable lesson): don’t judge a book by its cover.
How many times did I walk into a classroom with preconceived, or at least initial judgments about kids? How many times did they prove me right – possibly as a result of my expectations of them? How many times did they prove me wrong? Enough that I should have figured this out by now.
It’s dangerous to listen to other teachers’ opinions of kids, or to read a child’s entire file before you meet them and see how they will work with you. Whenever possible, every child should be able to meet a teacher with a clean slate, and to make their own mark. First impressions are huge too, but I used to forget that my first impression of them didn’t show what they were bringing to the class – and I had to temper what I saw and felt with what they might be seeing and feeling. Also, our impressions come with seasoning and experience; student impressions come with very different elements. And breeding does not a personality or temperament make, either – how often did I make passing judgments (in my head, of course) about kids based on their siblings or parents? Or their last name? If I really think about it, I can be honest and say that over 11 years, I improved my perception and the lens through which I was seeing my students. But old habits die hard, I guess.
When dealing with people and animals, there is much more than meets the eye. And as teachers going back to school, we would do well to remember that as we make interactions and forge relationships each day – both inside and outside classrooms!
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