I thought I would sit on the beach, read a good book, and relax. Instead, a little creature made me pause and consider how its behaviors can be an example of what I need to do in my teaching practice every year.

Earlier this summer, while on a vacation to the Outer Banks, I spent some time observing these little guys. They both fascinated and horrified me, all at the same time. They’re so well camouflaged that it’s easy to miss them in the sand, and a night walk on the beach with a flashlight will quickly reveal one is surrounded by them. They’re also amazingly quick and fun to watch. A quick Google search shows they are called Ghost Crabs.

What fascinated me the most was how they “clean house.” This crab spent its morning climbing down into its burrow, coming back up, peeking over the top edge of its hole, and when it decided I wasn’t going to pounce on it, coming all the way up and flinging one claw full of sand off to the side. It did this repeatedly.

It struck me that much of what we do in teaching is like this Ghost Crab’s efforts at cleaning house. We take a look around our classrooms and decide what needs to go. This can be a literal cleaning, where we finally get rid of those dusty, untouched books from 1982 that a well-meaning, retiring colleague handed over with the words, “These are just wonderful, and I know you’ll make great use of them.” But it can also be a metaphorical cleaning, where we consider what our students know and can do, and see all the “baggage” they bring with them, and bit by bit, we clear away the “sand” so we can get at what we need to help them learn.

The Ghost Crab doesn’t quit its cleaning until it’s satisfied with the results. The persistence is impressive. I was sitting not even five feet away, and it just kept at the task, watching me repeatedly to see what I was doing. If something looked amiss, it waited or ducked back into its burrow, but it never quit. Do we have that persistence in our teaching?

Something else I observed about the Ghost Crab: on occasion, one would scurry down toward the surf. I later learned that they don’t swim, but one of the reasons they do this is to get a bit of water to refresh their gills and make it easier to get the oxygen they need. We can learn from this, too. How often during the school year do we take time to pause and refresh so that we can work more efficiently? In the Ghost Crab’s case, it’s an essential step to take: without the right moisture in the gills, it can’t get the oxygen needed for survival. It is just as essential for us teachers to do the same thing: we need to pause to refresh and recharge, so that we can not only work efficiently but also survive.

Little did I know how much the Ghost Crab had to teach me.

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