If it walks like a duck … it’s just another fifth-grader
Posted: Wednesday, September 1, 2010 10:26 pm
With both her children away at college, Union City Elementary School teacher Jennifer Bruff might have felt she had an empty nest.
But everything has been just ducky.
Her nest has been filled for the past month by Daffy, a mallard duckling adopted by her fifth-grade class when the bird was only about two weeks old. (See related photo feature, Page 9.)
The baby duck — believed to be female based on feather color — was found by Terry Crittendon, the parent of fifth-grade student Taylor Crittendon, and brought to the classroom so the students could watch her grow until she is big enough to be returned to the wild. Ironically, Mrs. Bruff’s homeroom students had already been discussing the possibility of getting a class pet.
“The first week of school, we talked about getting a class pet,” Mrs. Bruff said. “We talked about gerbils and hamsters and fish and all these things, and somebody said, ‘Let’s get a duck.’ The next thing I know, (Crittendon) is calling me and saying he found a duck and ‘how would you like it?’ I said, ‘Sure, bring it on.’”
The duckling arrived in a rectangle-shaped glass aquarium that was plenty big the first week, but she soon outgrew her habitat and now occupies a makeshift pen at the back corner of the classroom.
“We went to a bigger container and then a bigger container and now she has her own little apartment,” Mrs. Bruff said.
Oddly enough, three or four students have pet ducks at home and they have shared their expertise. Still other information on raising the duck — including food preferences — has been found on the Internet.
“She is a lot of trouble, but it has been a really neat experience,” Mrs. Bruff said.
Birds of a feather
The duckling normally stays at school weeknights but goes home with the teacher on the weekends.
“She would be fine, but I just feel like she’d get lonely,” she said. “Even if she’s just lying in the middle of the classroom, she’s so used to hearing my voice from the teaching that I just kind of felt like being in this room for 48 hours would be too much. I keep her in my laundry room and have a little baby pool out back that she swims in.”
Mrs. Bruff said Daffy sometimes gets a little noisy, but the students have adjusted very well and consider her presence a normal part of their school day. She said they feel good knowing they have played a role in giving her a good start in life and they have shown tremendous maturity and responsibility in helping care for her.
“It’s funny because I think she’s really lonely when (the students) aren’t around, like when I take her home for the weekend,” she said. “She’s used to having voices and activity and things like that, so I know she’s wondering where they are.”
And young Daffy apparently has decided she is a fifth-grader just like the students.
“She wants to be right with them — including lining up to go down the hall,” Mrs. Bruff said, explaining the duckling waddles right alongside the students. “There’s no problem in the halls unless she gets confused and she starts to take off with someone else’s class or ends up in another room. I wouldn’t recommend it for everybody.”
She said UCES principal Michael Paul Miller has been very understanding.
“I explained to him that she was coming temporarily to live so that we could observe her and learn,” she said.
“The students work so hard when they get here and I just figure this is something that they’re really going to remember.”
During class, Daffy usually tucks her feet and settles down to snooze somewhere near the students’ desks.
“When the students are quiet and in their desks, she curls up and follows their lead,” Mrs. Bruff said. “I definitely think she feels like she is one of them. She is supposed to sit down when they sit down and go in the hall when they go.”
Mrs. Bruff has incorporated Daffy into many aspects of classwork — including science, writing and math.
In science, students have learned firsthand how behavioral imprinting works with certain animals by watching what Daffy does when she observes them, as well as studied about habitats and life cycles. They frequently take the duckling outside to swim in a wading pool and to watch what she does with various bugs and small fish.
“We want her to mimic living in the wild as much as she can living in the classroom, which is hard, but that’s why we take her outside,” Mrs. Bruff said. “When she does go back to the outside, I don’t want her never to have been exposed to it. We enjoy this, but we know the best place for her is back in a pond or somewhere.”
Daffy has been the subject of some creative writing assignments that tie into the fifth-grade writing assessment. One assignment asked students to pretend Daffy was missing and write a mystery about her whereabouts.
Math problems written by Mrs. Bruff have focused on addition and subtraction based on questions about Daffy’s kernels of corn or the number of her siblings.
Mrs. Bruff said the students will definitely miss Daffy when she returns to the Crittendons in preparation for release back into the wild. The duck has grown so much that she anticipates having her in class for just another week or two.
“She’s almost ready now. She’s getting big,” she said. “But she can still come and visit.”
The teacher admitted Daffy has also been a good companion for her in the classroom after school when she stays to work.
“She runs around and keeps me company,” she said. “I have the whole empty nest thing going on at home. My youngest just went away to college.”
Mrs. Bruff and her husband, Tracy, have two children away at college: Taylor, a student at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., and Allison, who just started classes at Rhodes College in Memphis.
“I tease them. I said, ‘You know, (the duckling) really is cute, almost cuter than y’all,’” she said.
Mrs. Bruff’s other children — her fifth-grade students at UCES — have already been asking about a replacement pet to fill the void once Daffy takes off.
“(With Daffy), they wanted something that wasn’t boring — and we definitely got something that wasn’t boring,” she said.
Published in The Messenger 9.1.10