Year of the Rat

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As a teacher, it's surprising how often I meet those who tell me they wanted to be a teacher, but their career took them in a different direction.

And that's what happened to Rosie. Rosie's second career is in the kindergarten at my school. She adds a lot to our staff, with her bright eyes and endless energy. Rosie didn't always work in an elementary school. She began her academic career in a university research lab, but the working conditions were crowded and the job was repetitive. Rosie was fond of small children and wanted to work with younger students.

And there was that other problem with the lab -- they were planning to kill her when the project was finished.

Rosie, after all, is a rat.

She's a little white rat, with pink ears and cute twitchy whiskers. Rescued from her fate at the lab, Rosie now lives in a cage in a classroom, and can't wait until it's time for the children to open her cage, under close supervision, and play with her. She practically vibrates with delight, every time a kid gets close to the cage.


Her fur is kept immaculate by the teacher, who explains to grossed-out parents a pet rat is cleaner than a pet dog or cat. Though adults may not see Rosie's charm, children do. The kids love Rosie as much as she loves them. And as these five-year-olds watch, oohing and ahing, while she leaps and spins on her wheel, Rosie is better than any storybook, teaching that every creature has a unique beauty, and a place on our planet.

You learn a lot that first year of school.

You learn ABC and 1,2,3, and these youngsters are learning something else -- some people find rats revolting, but you might just find them cute. The kids are learning it's a big world, filled with all kinds of things and all kinds of people, and it's up to you to decide what you think is beautiful, even if others don't necessarily see things the same way.

The school year has come to an end. And that last day of kindergarten, the students said "Bye Rosie," sobbing as they fed her one last seed. It's hard to say goodbye.

One more lesson the children learned from Rosie their kindergarten year at my school -- the year of the rat.

With a perspective, I'm Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow teaches at the Sunset School in San Francisco.