The crowd of first and second graders huddled on the playground is my first clue that something is up.
Shrieks of delight, then groans of disgust, followed by screams and girls scattering in different directions.
It’s a large grasshopper.
“His leg is broken,” one girl tells me.
I go over to look. As if on cue, the grasshopper hops high into the air, sending them all screaming and scattering. I watch them for a minute. Kids, so delighted, so amused by the grasshopper with the broken leg.
They reassemble. Watching and waiting, they want to see if he will jump again.
The second grade boy lifts his foot high, and stomps on it.
Everyone screams. He’s dead, he’s dead!
No! I yell seconds too late. I am the teacher in charge. It is my afternoon of playground duty; I tell him we don’t kill things for no reason. He stares at me wide-eyed.
I tell him, I tell them all, “We don’t ever kill things for no reason! He can’t defend himself! We need to protect all the creatures!”
I can’t seem to stop talking.
“We turn into the bullies when we do things like this.”
They are watching me closely to see what will happen next. They know the teacher is upset. I dig into my raincoat pocket for a tissue to pick him up. I only find a Post-It note: Honey Nut Cheerios.
I try to scoop him up with the beginning of a grocery list. A boy pushes the grasshopper onto my makeshift stretcher and we carry him over to the grass. “He’s dead. Aw man, he is dead,” I hear another kid tell the crowd. I thank the boy and tell him he did a good thing. Good for your karma, too. I’m not sure I said that out loud.
He runs off to join his friends. He isn’t looking for thanks, or praise, or hoping for extra karma points. He’s just a good kid.
“Yeah, he’s dead,” another kid confirms it.
“Yes, he’s dead,” I say. “Next time we aren’t going to be the bullies, right?” The kids nod and run off.
I stay with the grasshopper for a few minutes. The sun is warm and I think I should take off my raincoat. A little girl, blonde ponytail swinging behind her, runs over to me. “Mrs. H, here’s his other leg.” She is holding the grasshopper’s missing leg.
“Put it in the trash,” I tell her. “I can’t fix him.”
She looks at me without blinking.
“I can’t fix him, honey.”
She skips away, dropping the leg in the trash on her way to the swings.
Last month, I watched in frozen horror as a group of high school boys surrounded another boy lying on the sidewalk. I watched as one boy’s shoe came down on another boy’s head.
I froze, screaming no in my head, as the police and ambulance arrived.
Please, I think, as I go back into class. Please don’t let your babies grow up to be bullies.
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Asst. Ed.: Moira Madden/Ed: Bryonie Wise