A bird in the room

It’s been a quiet year to work in a school building: 10 or fewer kids per class seated six feet apart, wearing masks, while the other 2/3 of our students did remote learning from home. No more interruptions or discipline problems. I felt almost like I had an office job, hopping onto Zoom meetings and online classrooms most of the day. 

Before the pandemic, we had a system for responding to discipline or other classroom problems: teachers would send a group text, and an administrator or counselor would respond. However, this year, we hadn’t received a single “need help” text. 

Suddenly, one day in May, I got a text from a teacher, Ms. M. “Can you come to room 304? I need help.” 

My mind raced: was a student refusing to wear a mask? Was there a fight or argument? Did a student have COVID symptoms? I rushed to the classroom. 

Nothing unusual was happening. The students looked focused, bent over their papers. They were taking a mandated state English test. The room was silent. 

All of a sudden, all eyes moved upward with the sound of flapping. I followed their gaze: a pigeon swooped across the room and landed on top of a bookshelf. 

“So I called you because there’s a pigeon,” said Ms. M. “Actually, there were two pigeons. They’ve been here for about thirty minutes. One of them finally flew out, but this one is still here. The students are trying to take this test, but they’re getting distracted.” 

I understood why Ms. M had called me, the qualified administrator. I should know what to do in this situation. Yet at no point in grad school, internship, or in my actual job had I ever needed to get a bird out of a room. 

All of our classrooms have tall windows, with a top window that opens with a long window pole. I grabbed a window pole– maybe I could somehow “shoo” the bird out with the pole. 

A student, Ibrahim,* looked up from his test, seeing me standing awkwardly with a swaying eight foot pole. 

“Miss,” Ibrahim said, “I don’t think that’s a good idea.” 

I looked at the pole, at the pigeon, and at Ibrahim. I remembered Ibrahim as a 9th grader last year, racing through the hallways and getting into mischief. He was calmer this year, echoing the quietness that defined the year. 

“You’re probably right Ibrahim,” I admitted. 

I called the custodian, who arrived in a few minutes and suggested we open up the window directly opposite to where the pigeon was perched. “Maybe if he sees the sky he’ll fly out.”  

The custodian, an older man, struggled to open the window with the pole. Ibrahim, watching, stepped in and offered to help. He grabbed the pole and with a few expert yanks, the window was open. 

“Ah, youth,” said the custodian. 

The pigeon, miraculously, saw the patch of sky and flew out the window. 

The custodian thanked Ibrahim. Ms. M and I thanked Ibrahim. The students, who had been watching all of this unfold, went back to their tests. 

I went back to my office to the world of Zoom, thinking it was a pleasure to be interrupted for this small and unique moment and see a student be a hero. 

*The names and identifying features of students have been changed.

Photo credit: Stuart Caie, Creative Commons License.

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