I was standing outside before school, allowing students into the building one class at a time. There were three classes remaining, including my own, when a student asked, “Why do we always have to be the last class to go inside?”
I turned to the boy and asked, “What’s the rush? Why not enjoy the fresh air for a couple extra minutes?”
At that moment, a rabbit shot across the lawn in front of the remaining students. “Look! A rabbit!” a girl shouted, her finger tracking its path from the school in the direction of the forest. Shouts of joys and cries of laughter instantly filled the air.
“A rabbit!” the children shouted. “Look! A rabbit!”
“See!” I said. “If I had let your class go inside first, you would’ve missed the rabbit.”
In that instant, an enormous red-tailed hawk launched itself from its concealed perch in the trees above and began gliding down toward the unsuspecting rabbit. In the span of seconds the students’ cries of joy transformed into shrieks of horror as the hawk rapidly closed the distance between it and its prey.
“No!” the children screamed, nearly in unison.
“Save the rabbit!” one girl shouted at me.
It was a moment that seemed to pass by in slow motion as the hawk retracted its talons and aimed itself directly at the rabbit. The rabbit seemed to sense the approaching predator, altering its previously straight path into one of zigzags and rapid turns.
I didn’t think the rabbit stood a chance, but it was apparently holding back. As it approached the edge of the forest, it seemed to find another gear, firing off a final burst of speed that allowed it to pull ahead of the bird. It reached the cover of the forest and ducked beneath the bow of a fallen tree just seconds before the hawk would have snatched it off the ground.
The hawk alighted on a branch above the fallen tree and began screeching in apparent frustration. The children erupted into cheers. There were high fives, fist pumps and even a few hugs.
“That was the greatest thing I ever saw at school!” one boy shouted.
Another leaned in and whispered to me, “I was rooting for the hawk.”
“I never want to go inside early again!” the previously complaining student announced. “You never know what you might miss!”
I could teach for another thirty years and never deliver instruction as effective as the life-or-death struggle that played out before us that morning. Sometimes being in the right place at the right time trumps all the training, preparation and expertise that a teacher can muster.