i was nearing the end of my first year teaching 4-year-old kindergarteners in the heart of the Milwaukee Public School System. we were on an ocean theme. i decided, to enhance the learning & fun & buy a fish. i was super excited when i made the big announcement, “tomorrow we will have our own pet fish in the classroom!” – rookie mistake number one.  


i purchased a goldfish & small bowl after work, filled the bowl with water & voila, our fish had a healthy home –  rookie mistake number two.


i went to bed & woke up to a floating fish with bulging eyeballs glaring directly at me. “asshole” it was whispering. i covered my ears & i flushed the poor guy down the toilet, while apologizing profusely. disheartened, i made my way to school. 


as my loves began entering the classroom, a ruckus of

“hey, ms.molly! where the fish at?” began. 


i gathered them for circle time, like we do at the beginning of every school day.  except, this was no normal school day. this was The Fish Day. i told them their fish, unfortunately, died.


“you shoot it?” was the first question flying out of Travell’s mouth. 


“wait…… WHAT?” was all i could think. 

i was stunned into silence. their big eyes & big questions continued on. about the dead fish. & who killed it.


“um……… no, i did not shoot the fish.” 


here’s the thing – guns killing people they loved was the one experience many of these 4-year old’s had with death.  so we talked about other ways that living things can die. our fish died from natural causes or because ms. molly doesn’t know how to take care of a fish.


our lives were different. i was a young white woman from the suburbs, they were young black children from the city. i had zero idea what their lives were like when they walked out the school door. they were teaching me – their lives were vastly different from mine.

 “to teach is to learn twice over.”~ joseph joubert

in retrospect, my students were another introduction to mindful living. practicing mindfulness grows your capacity for compassion & resilience. i’m grateful i had the wherewithal to respond to their concerns with kindness & curiosity rather than horror & shame. my heart opened even wider for these little loves of mine. we had grown to love and trust each other deeply throughout each day of our year together.

my students have always been my best teachers.

 now i have to learn to take care of a fish.

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