Classroom Reflections: Appreciating the Off-Beat

Appreciating the Off-Beat: An Ode to Albert the Cow 

The beginning of a new school year always provides teachers with the opportunity to start fresh, explore new ideas, and interact with a new community of learners. My 5th year of teaching, this inspirational season led to the creation of Albert the Cow.

To be clear, Albert wasn’t a real cow, but a bulletin board in the reading corner imploring students to “Moove over here and read.” To spice up Albert’s presence, I created a 3-D head on his flat bulletin-board body to give him some personality. With a paper grocery bag, some newspapers, some butcher paper, and a few rubber bands, I brought this bovine to life.

I’d only meant to provide some character in the reading corner, but Albert soon took a life of his own. Within the first month, my students adopted Albert as the class mascot. Throughout the year, Albert wore beads, Hawaiian leis, bunny ears, a Santa hat, and a beard. At times, Albert’s head fell off the wall and students dutifully retrieved a stapler to reattach it to the bulletin board. This big bag of paper became a comforting old friend for students as they quietly read books on the pea-green second hand couch. In the end, it was something I never could have planned.

For me, Albert represents one of the joys of teaching. A last-minute addition to the wall unexpectedly helped to bring out the personality of the class and consistently brought me a smile whenever he underwent a change of wardrobe. Albert was a small part of a busy and productive year; however, he’s now an indelible memory tied to those students. In fact, Albert retired at the end of the year and I never used him with another class. It just didn’t seem appropriate.

At this point, all of you have put in countless hours of planning, attended hours of meetings, and prepped your classrooms for the start of the year. As professionals, I have no doubt you are prepared, but I want to encourage you to leave room for spontaneity and appreciate the quirky moments that will invariably occur over the course of an academic year. Who knows? You might find yourself with your own Albert-type of story by the end of the year.


Dr. Pete Renn, Assistant Dean of the School of Education, serves as the CPE Director as well as teaching both undergrad and graduate education courses at SPU. 


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