Sunday, May 15, 2016


I have decided my next blog series will be birds. I began with shearwater, a bird that lives entirely in my heart, having never seen one in the wild. So now I will back up and cover the birds that I know better.


1. I had never noticed mockingbirds until I moved to Houston. They would walk around our backyard, their tails up like checkmarks, and then fly up to low branches, flashing their white wing bars. 

Best of all, when my cat, Wiz, would escape through the sliding glass door off the kitchen, he would run out into the grass of the backyard, where he would wind up crouched down and slinking as quickly as he could away from the mockingbirds who would dive-bomb him, chirping angrily.

He never learned.

2. When I was getting back into the teaching world, I was a long-term sub in an art classroom out in St. Charles. I liked this job. I actually liked it a lot. As a sub in a non-homeroom, my duties started and ended when I had students in my classroom. If I didn't have a class, I could leave the building, leave the campus, and it was no big deal as long as I was back in time for my next class.

So I ran all my errands during my breaks, which were conveniently long and stacked up together. The art teacher at that school (at every school?) has a cushy little place in the world.

So I would be driving away from school at different times of the day, and pass the playground on my way out. Kids would be playing and then suddenly the whistle would blow and they'd run to line up. And then run back and play. And then the whistle would blow again. Lots of confusion as to when recess was actually over.

Because the mockingbirds had learned the sound of the PE whistle. And had a bit of a mean streak, obviously, because they would imitate it at random points when kids were out on the playground. I decided to love mockingbirds then, once and for all.

3. The 8th grade at my school reads To Kill A Mockingbird. I read it myself in 6th grade on my own, when it was a story about Scout. Then I read it for a class in high school, when it was a story of justice and the South. And then I read it for my book club and it was a story about Atticus. All in one book.

But the 8th graders were reading it last year. Many of them, however, were not reading it. The literature teacher would send them across the hall to my room to sit and finish reading instead of partaking in a quiz or a discussion or something—it doesn't matter the reason. Two of my least favorite students were at my back table one afternoon while I taught 6th graders math, and I drifted back to mock them a little bit. They asked me some questions. I started talking.

“I think Tom Robinson is the mockingbird,” one of them said. They were discussing symbolism in the book and the title passage.

“I don't agree,” I shook my head. The two boys looked right at me. “Look at his name. He already has a bird name: Robinson. Scout's family name is Finch. They're not the mockingbirds either. I don't think they are, anyway.”

They thought a moment. “Then who is it?”

“Who might it be?”

“Boo Radley?” he ventured.

“That's what I think. If that sheriff at the end, if he'd locked Boo Radley up for that murder, what would it prove? What justice could come from that?”

We kept talking. My 6th graders turned, some of them, and listened as I kept going. I had the two 8th grade boys completely in my thrall.

"Wow, it makes me wish I'd read the book," one of them said.
"Maybe you will in another class along the way," I shrug. "I do like that book."

They got up and went back to class. I stood up from the table, most of the 6th graders' eyes still on me.

“You were so good, talking about that book. Why aren't you a lit teacher?” one of my 6th grade girls asked.

“Because boys like that would never read, even for me, and it would break my heart.”

1 comment:

  1. I love mockingbirds. Here in this sliver of Vermont, I'm lucky to ever see one. When I go to Portland, I head to the Promenade, which I think of as Mockingbird Way. I love their accents: city mockers vs country mockers. And I have a niece named Jean Louise.