The Mushroom Farmer, Book Three, Chapter 2

“They were there a minute ago,” the mf tells his students, referring to the ducks.

A green-headed male and brown-feathered female mallard have been making their annual end-of-winter visit, paddling in the pool, creating reverberations.

How far they have come, the mf wonders. How far they must go. And how do they find their way to our pool year after year?

Science has explanations, and one of these days, the mf will look them up. Meanwhile, he satisfies himself with, “Ducks are smart.”

Duck-writing was supposed to be the day’s first activity for the teens in his online English Language Development class. The lesson consists of three questions.

  1. “What’s happening?
  2. What makes you say that?”

You can get kids to write about anything with those two questions. Try it! Then drop the clincher:

3. “What more can you notice?”

It’s a lesson plan that never fails unless the ducks vanish. Then, your students are left to describe an empty swimming pool. Yes, it ripples and is blue. Perhaps it induces a peaceful feeling. Perhaps it induces envy. This is not the point. The point is, no ducks.

The mf thinks, “It’s okay; this will teach them that science is built on failure.” However, this is not a history of science class. It’s an ELD class where you’re supposed to be building well-defined skills such as supporting a claim with details.

One of the good things about the mf as a teacher is he can quickly come up with a better idea, or at least, another idea. He tells his students, “I’m going to see if I can lure them back.” He goes into his house to get breadcrumbs while the students stand by in their cramped apartments.

Does the mf’s galivanting around his hacienda equate to experiential learning? Sometimes. Not this time. The ducks were not forthcoming and so 15 recent arrivals from countries including Guatemala, Korea and the Philippines looked at their teacher’s pool on video.

Plucky

Fortunately, Plucky takes this moment to scream. Plucky, the alpha hen, wanting nothing to do with the three Rhode Island Reds the mf got to replace poor hawk-killed Clucky, has not only flown the coop but commenced to live off the grid. She is hiding deep within the candle-light shaped leaves of a leucadendron bush. He knows she’s in there. The bush bears several imprints shaped like a loaf of pumpernickel bread. Yet even though he knows where she is hiding, the mf is not chicken-smart enough find her.

“Plucky,” he often calls forlornly. “Where are you?” The answer is a rustling among the nearby New Zealand flax that might sound like a hiding chicken if the mf didn’t know it was actually the sound of himself frog-stepping among the shrubbery.

He wants to assure himself that a hawk or coyote isn’t eviscerating Plucky. Such assurance cannot be forthcoming when you cannot keep your curious and determined brown hen safe in the coop. Fortunately for the mf, who is failing to do a good job as a teacher or farmer, Plucky chooses the ducks’ disappearance to make her presence known by screaming.

It sounds like fabric tearing, or a rip deep within chicken neck. The mf interprets this cry to mean, “I’m right here, you moron.” Plucky and the other chickens delight in making him look stupid, as when they led him in a game of chase us around the banana trees. Even the new Rhode Island Reds, whom he initially thought were so docile, have lately been running him in circles.

This is why the mf keeps a cylinder of oatmeal on hand. Shake an oatmeal cylinder; chicken come scuttling. He demonstrates to his ELD students, who — in the mf’s fantasy world of effective teaching despite the pandemic — are writing all this down. Plucky the rebel chicken finally calls a truce and hunkers down right in front of the camera to peck intently.

A frazzled mf returned to his computer to salvage what he can of the lesson, only to discover that his students actually have been writing! He had the foresight to include a picture of the ducks at the side of the pool in the online lesson, for the students to reference as the “What’s happening and what makes you say so” portion of the lesson. And they — at least, seven out of 15, not bad for kids a year-plus into remote learning — have written claims supported by evidence:

“They are relaxing after a long flight; I know this because it is tiring to fly.”

“They have just come out of the pool because I see water on the floor.”

“I have no idea what’s going on but I just saw a chicken LOL.”

Published by MarkGozonsky

Mark Gozonsky has been writing stories and essays since he was a music snob prodigy in early-1970's San Antonio, Texas. Since then he has written about not only music but also baseball, gardening, teaching, parenting, cycling and the... glory of love. Lit Hub and The Sun have published his work, and so has the Austin Chronicle. He lives with his wife in Los Angeles, where he teaches English to some of the nicest kids in the world at an arts-themed public high school downtown.

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