Wednesday, March 20, 2013

When a Class Pet Dies

This post has been sitting half-finished in my drafts for over a year {oops!} and hails from my days teaching Kindergarten innercity. If you've spent any amount of time here at Lipstick, Lattes, and Lesson Plans then you know my time there was challenging to say the least, especially at the beginning of the school year when I was still working on routines and behavior.

I don't know how many of you know anything about African dwarf frogs but my kindergarteners would be happy to share a thing or two.
via google images

I was hired about a month after the start of the school year last year after the original Kindergarten teacher left unexpectedly. The African dwarf frogs (2 of them) were already a part of my classroom and my students had done some pretty extensive research on them. Did you know that African dwarf frogs live their entire lives underwater but have lungs so they must always come up to the surface to breathe? Or that they cannot be out of water for more than 20 minutes or they will dry out?

African dwarf frogs need exactly two pieces of frog food every other day. I read that in the wild they are actually scavengers and eat all sorts of things so this never really made sense to me. However, I was told to be very careful and make sure they were fed this specific amount of food. We picked jobs in my classroom every week so each week a different student had the opportunity to be the "veterinarian" and was responsible for the frogs.

It was my second month of school and we were working a lot on behavior. When I started in the classroom, it was common for the kids to bite each other (and me), throw chairs, and curse at each other. A day where these things didn't happen was considered a success. The African dwarf frogs were the last thing on my mind.

Then one morning my co-teacher was absent, making our morning routine a little more hectic than usual. We had a school wide assembly and I was getting my kids unpacked and lined up so that they could go to the gym. Then, one of my little girls yells out, "Look! The frog is dead!"

This caused a lot of excitement for my kiddos but seeing as how we were in a time crunch, I did the only logical thing I could think of at the time and positioned myself between their eyesight and the frogs. "Oh no, " I said, calmly, "I think he's just sleeping. I was working so late last night he is probably very tired. Let's go to the assembly and let him take a nap."

So off we went to the gym for our assembly. What I didn't mention was that there had been a little mishap with the frogs earlier in the week. My veterinarian was a real profession, feeding the frogs the exact right amount of food on the days they were supposed to be fed. Unfortunately, one of my little boys decided to dump some extra food in the tank to "help." I don't really know if he was trying to help the veterinarian or if he just wanted to see what would happen. He was not my top direction follower and was one of those students who liked to test the limits.

When we returned from the assembly, we only had a few minutes before our special, so I ushered my kiddos to the carpet for our whole group literacy lesson. Luckily, the frog tank was out of view. When I dropped them off for their special, I went back to the classroom to investigate. And sure enough the frog was still there in the tank and was now floating at the surface of the water, belly up.

The problem with this was that I am not really a frog person. If I had been able to choose my own class pet it would have been a singular beta fish. Or perhaps a floppy bunny because I prefer mammals. It would not have been an African dwarf frog. And it most certainly would not have been TWO African dwarf frogs.

My co-teacher liked the frogs a lot more than I did so I considered just moving the tank out of the kids view and letting her deal with the situation when she returned in the afternoon. This is a major benefit of team teaching. I sent her a quick text message to ask her expert frog opinion. She texted back asking me if I was sure he was dead. I said I thought so and she suggested waiting a little bit longer. This sounded good to me because I had no idea how I was going to remove him from the tank.

But I couldn't stop thinking about the second frog. So down the hall I went to one of the other Kindergarten teacher's rooms. I asked her if she knew anything about African dwarf frogs, which she didn't. Then, I told her I was pretty sure one of ours was dead. "Just dump the whole tank," she suggested, "Like you would a fish."

"But what about the other frog?" I asked.

She asked me if the poor second frog was still in the tank with the floating dead one. I embarrassedly admitted that I was. We decided I would somehow have to remedy this because this was probably contaminating the water and my class really didn't need to deal with the loss of two pets. She and I went back to my room and peered into the tank, trying to think of how we could get the frog out. Then, my principal peeked in and I told him about the situation, hoping he would offer to remove the frog, which he did not. He did tell me what an important teachable moment this was for my kids.

Thank heavens that another teacher came into my room right at that moment who had more experience with amphibians than I did. She used a net to remove the frog for me and we carried him downstairs to the faculty restroom for a proper burial.

After lunch, I broke the news to my kids. We talked about how he had been a special part of our class but that this was a natural part of the life cycle. Those who had lost grandparents or other family members shared their stories and they made cards for the frog during snack.

Had our school been located in a more suburban area, we probably would have taken a field trip outside and buried him together. However, being innercity, even our playground didn't have actual grass.

When my co-teacher returned in the afternoon, I recounted the day's events to her. By this point, at least since the frog had now been buried, I thought it was all pretty hilarious. I don't have a class pet this year, though, although I am tentatively considering a gold fish for next year. For the time being, I'm just sticking with plants.

Have any of you experienced the death of a class pet? How did you handle it?