Teacher Says Her Students Put Hand Sanitizer In The Classroom Fish Tank While She Was On Leave — ‘He Won’t Survive’

“My students tried to kill my fish.”

Class fish sitting on a teacher's desk. Pressmaster / Shutterstock.com

In a Reddit post to the “Teachers” forum, one teacher shared the cruel reality she was forced to come to terms with after being absent for just one day. With the substitute teacher in charge of the class, she couldn’t imagine anything would go terribly wrong until she got an alarming email from one of her kids.

The class pet, a betta fish the teacher bought when it was just a baby, had been subject to unimaginable cruelty by several students in her class. 


The teacher said her students put hand sanitizer in the classroom fish tank while she was out of town — ‘I have a strong feeling he won’t survive.’

Teachers deal with a lot — from misbehaving students to mental health burdens — on top of their expectation to actually teach and record students' educational progress. 

Sometimes, especially in today’s educational climate and classrooms, they’re forced to get creative, coming up with interesting and engaging ways to teach their children both academically fulfilling lessons and basic life skills.

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It’s exactly why this teacher made the decision to get a class pet

While class pets can often be overwhelming for many teachers, lower-maintenance animals like fish or caterpillars can be fundamental in teaching students responsibility, rewarding long-term commitments, and empathy. However, clearly lacking in either empathy or competency, this teacher’s class pet situation took a dark turn.

“I teach 7th grade science, and we have a betta fish in the classroom. I got it when it was a baby, and we’ve been keeping up with its growth. I went out of town for a few days and received this email from one of my students after one day out,” the teacher wrote. “Apparently, two students put hand sanitizer and tons of fish food (which was in a closed cabinet they had to go through) into the tank.”

Her substitute teacher, who ultimately noticed the ‘murky’ fish tank, texted the teacher to let her know. However, when she came back it seemed too late.

“I texted the other teachers to ask them to check on the fish and found out that the email was true,” the teacher revealed, recalling her now-stressful day off. "The tank was murky, and the fish’s fins were already starting to deteriorate.”


Asking other teachers to relocate the tank away from her students to “keep him safe,” she knew almost immediately that the class betta fish wouldn’t survive. Not only was this alarming, in alignment with the school’s growing “behavior problems,” it was alarming to her. If 7th graders were capable of animal abuse, what more could they be capable of?

Young students sitting in a classroom. Ground Picture / Shutterstock.com

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“What can I do to make these kids regret/understand what they did? This is animal abuse. I’m at a school where behavior is out of control, so emails home and/or sending them to the principal doesn’t affect them or their conscience.”

It’s situations like this where teachers shouldn't have to shoulder the burden of discipline for extreme misbehavior. However, with growing counselor and mental health professional shortages in schools, teachers have no recourse.

She said that although student behavior issues at her school have worsened, this felt ‘too far.’ 

“For those asking why I brought a fish in the first place, we had one all year that passed away in March, so our baby was brought in April. There hadn’t been any problems leaving the fish with substitutes before. No animal cruelty has happened all year.”

Now, she's unsure how to proceed. Even though her students deserve discipline, what is appropriate? At what point should classroom misbehavior become alarming to more than just teachers?

@learnwithmrstk Replying to @user636318607034 What advice do you have for dealing with students who keep being disrespectful?#tiktokteacher #teachersoftiktok #teacherlife #teacherproblems #teachershelpingteachers #teacheradvice #classroommanagement #studentsupport ♬ Chill Vibes - Tollan Kim

Especially in larger public districts, over 70% of teachers note rising misbehavior in their classrooms. Sadly, administrators haven’t done much to help teachers, and more than 45% say they feel “unsupported” in their roles.

Like many other industries with complaints over working conditions, nothing is likely to change — at least in the current state. Commenters warned this teacher about how to proceed, with some arguing that she should let administrative professionals address the issue.


“If you're the teacher I'm thinking of, I know for a fact these kids are horrible,” one teacher wrote, who allegedly works alongside the poster and caught the boys “gossiping” about hurting the fish. “I don't think we've met face to face, but I've heard your name. I think you're the teacher whose husband unfortunately passed, and the kids made a diss track about it… I won’t be returning next year.”

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Zayda Slabbekoorn is a News & Entertainment Writer at YourTango who focuses on health & wellness, social policy, and human interest stories.