Tales of a Fourth Grade Teacher: “Is that a Zebra in my Classroom?”

Missy is that kind of student teachers get every so often that makes you wonder if you are in a classroom or watching a soap opera.  Drama and theatrics are a normal part of Missy’s day, and you find yourself wondering, “If only all of that energy could be channeled…”  

Read Classroom Teaching Fellow Sharla Steever’s account of a memorable student experience that she calls a “Missy Moment.” (Note:  names have been changed to protect the young!)

. . . . .

Missy came in after lunch recess one day and I noticed the familiar pout–laid out on the Futon in the reading corner and covered with all of the pillows so that only her feet poked out. 

I thought, “Here we go…”  Sometimes Missy will regroup when she doesn’t get attention, so I tried that.

“Fourth graders, please get your math books and find page 163.” 

No movement from the Futon. 

A few moments later, another attempt: “I need ALL of you to open your math books to page 163.” 

Still no movement, but a couple students whispered to the pillows, “Missy, she’s looking at you.” 

Still no movement, so I made a final attempt, “I have asked for everyone to be ready for math, and if there is a reason any of you are unable to do this, I need you to come share that with me, otherwise, let’s get to it.”  

The pillow shifted subtly.  Missy dragged her body to me and let me know she was unhappy about a recess incident.  I told her to take her coat to her locker, get a drink and take a couple of nice deep breaths, and see if that would help her to feel better. 

Two minutes later, Missy returned to the class, still pouting, but in a full zebra costume.  We’re talking ears, hooves, full head to toe, black and white zebra. 

Most of the students stared in amazement. There wasn’t  a giggle in the bunch.

When I heard the whisper, “There’s a zebra in our room” from one part of the class, I swallowed down the giant “guffaw” that wanted to burst out of me and thought, “What does one say about a zebra in the room?”  

As straight-faced as I could, I said, “Fourth graders, would you please take a book out to read for a moment?  And Missy, would you please meet me in the hallway?”

Missy shuffled out and as I thought about what to say, the words that came out of my mouth are some I have never said before in my teaching career, “Missy, you’re not going to wear a zebra costume in our classroom today.” 


“Is there anything appropriate about what you are doing right now?” I asked.


“OK then, would you like to tell me what’s really going on here?” 

“Well, Joni wouldn’t play with me at recess and it really hurt my feelings and I was trying to feel better.”  We talked a little longer, and finally Missy put away her zebra costume and returned to class ready for math.   

You just never know what might happen in a 4th grade classroom, but those Zebra Costume Days make coming to teach each day the adventure that it really is.  

Sharla Steever

Sharla Steever is a Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow in Hill City, S.D.

1 Comment

  1. Sharla, your story reminds me of why I absolutely love being a teacher. We get to know students and all of who they are. Human. Zebra. Accepted. Rejected. Attention-seeking. Hidden. We have the incredibly important job of making all of our students feel welcome and safe enough to be their full selves…even if it means coming to class in a zebra costume. Thank you for sharing your story. I loved my 4th grade teacher to pieces but after reading how you handled Missy and her needs I think it would have been great to be in your class. Keep teaching the Missys and all of her peers. You inspire me.

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