Mice Produce an Amazing Amount of Scat Relative to Body Size

…and other adventures in setting up a new classroom.

It began when I was offered my dream job: teaching fourth grade at a school two blocks from my apartment. I would be taking over for another teacher who was moving elsewhere in the district. She graciously left me lots of supplies: most of a classroom library, lots of reproducible activities, math manipulatives, a paper cutter, and some bulletin board decorations. She showed me around the room, told me to call her if I had any questions, and left me to the task of pulling everything off the shelves, removing a thick layer of dust, and putting the materials back in some semblance of order. This went along fine until I got to the bottom layer of shelves. I pulled the books out, vinegared up my rag, started cleaning, and then stopped. All along the back of the shelves lay tiny piles of mouse droppings, stacked like little bonfires. I actually said “Uggggh, no no no no” out loud and jerked my hand back, managing in the process to scatter mouse droppings over the floor and my shoes. I imagine my face looked something like this:

What Cat


Now, as a teacher of younglings, I have had some pretty gross stuff on me. I have had children sneeze liberally all over themselves and then launch into my arms. I have had to leap back to avoid vomit splatter. I have washed my hands of the blood of nosebleeds, skinned knees, and improbably huge papercuts. I have come into contact with the urine of children too young to really understand the implications of peeing freely wherever they so choose.

Basically what I’m saying is there’s not much in the way of bodily excretions that phases me anymore.

This, though, required some thought. I was vaguely aware that there had been a couple of mice in the building last winter (as there are in every building in the city during the winter, when it gets quite cold.) However, they had been dealt with then and I assumed (incorrectly, it turned out) that they were gone. My brain reminded me, helpfully, that there was some sort of mouse virus you could catch from breathing in particles of mouse feces, so I tried not to breathe for a while. Obviously, that wasn’t going to solve the problem in the long term, so I took a walk to collect myself and found myself suddenly staring at the wall of disinfectant options at Walgreens.

Purchased disinfectant in hand and a googling wiser, I approached the situation anew: gloved, paper toweled, and in possession of something that promised to kill 99.9% of viruses and bacteria on contact. I sprayed the droppings, waited for the spray to dry, picked up and discarded them, wiped the surface with a vinegar-based cleaner, and then disinfected again. Then I thought The only good virus is a dead virus*, so I sprayed again for good measure.

Then I stood back, admired my handiwork, and went home to take a long, hot shower, wash all my clothes, and add an entry to my list of Things Teacher Certification Programs Don’t Tell You to Expect.

Post Script: I feel obliged to emphasize that this wasn’t a case of school negligence. The mice had apparently re-entered over the summer while no one was in the building and set up a small nest. Once the room had been thoroughly disinfected, I went to track down someone who would ensure the non-reemergence of my mouse friends. Apparently, the school is aware of the issue and will be dealing with it via exterminator on Monday.

Post Post Script: I could also just bring my cat to school, which would be totally curriculum-appropriate because we are studying food webs.

*This is probably not true, because bacteriophages exist and are pretty cool, but The only good virus contained in mouse droppings is a dead virus contained in mouse droppings just doesn’t roll off the tongue in the same way.