“Teacher, my dad buyed me a pet!” exclaimed Dino, shifting back and forth beaming down at a plastic 6 oz. cup with murky water and, sure enough, a fish swimming around. This was my third day as a teacher in the U.S. and because the district office’s finger-printing machine was out of commission, a substitute teacher sat in the back of the room to satisfy state mandates. “Dino,” I exhaled, “you can’t bring a fish to school! Call your dad and I will put the cup on the back counter before any more of the water spills out.”
I heedfully carried the cup and placed it beneath our wall of photos of inspirational global citizens – right beneath Dolores Huerta and Maya Angelou. Maybe this fish was actually Nemo – the brave fish that traveled the world alone. I returned to the front of the room to focus on more pressing matters: practicing the transition from desks to carpet without any student tripping, yelling, fighting, or refusing to go.
As I pointed to step one on my tediously color-coded poster, “stand up and push in chairs,” the phone rang. It was HR in the district office; they had finally repaired the finger-print reader and were hoping to conduct the background checks on all of the new teachers that same day to avoid paying for more substitute teacher days. I scrambled to share my lesson plans with Mr. L, and ran out, forgetting about the aquatic friend on the counter.
Two hours later, I walked back into my classroom and scanned the room. The students were pseudo-listening to the substitute as he taught two-digit multiplication and my eyes landed on the back counter. The fish was gone. I walked over to Dino’s desk to interrogate.
“Teacher, Hotdog was lonely. He’s in my table.” I leaned down and stifled laughter, as I pulled out a now-nearly-empty cup with a fish struggling to stay under water.
The class pet that spent the day with us on the third day of school only began to foretell the shenanigans to come as a 4th-grade teacher.