Billy Bob Betta

I always wanted a fish. In my growing up years, my family had one short-lived canine named Butch, a moody Siamese cat named Caesar, and a schizophrenic parakeet named Pete, but never a fish.

About two weeks ago I got one…for my school classroom. I had challenged my students to write a persuasive argument that sought to convince me on a situation they wanted to see happen. I gave them 8 or 9 options on such things as additional time outside, since we assumed warmer weather would come sometime, no assignments for the last week for those with A’s and B’s, being able to choose their own seat, candy treats at the end of class each day, and…getting a class pet!

One boy suggested a class llama.

Other suggestions included getting a class snake (Uck!), a lizard, a frog, an alligator, and a shark. A class pet fish seemed to be a manageable compromise. Snakes creep me out and I’m not sure which restroom the llama would be using (Probably whichever one he wanted to or wherever he wanted to!).

Welcome Billy Bob Betta, a betta fish with personality, and easily managed. He even has a taco in his tank. You could call that a “fish taco.” A sign in his tank beside the taco says “No fishing!”

Billy Bob has brought delight and smiles to the faces of the eighth-graders who occupy my classroom. BBB swims over to the front of the tank to greet them, gives them his full weird-looking eyes’ attention, and waves his smaller fins as if he is saying hello.

One of my students, confusion laced into the comment, asked, “Mr. Wolfe, why did you get a fish with 6 weeks left in the school year?”

“Good question! I guess I didn’t really think about that.”

“So if Billy Bob is still alive at the end of the school year, can I have him?”

“If your parents say it’s okay. In fact, if he’s not still alive, you can still have him.”

With a teacher-sounding correcting tone: “Mr. Wolfe!”

At the beginning of each class period, various 13 and 14-year-olds, who are mostly trying to impress their classmates or bring enougb attitude to make a casserole, lose their put-on exterior and rediscover the glee of childhood. Billy Bob Betta staring right back at them.

The complexity and complications of middle school are swept to the side for a moment with a simple encounter with a small fish. I’ve received more advice from my students on how I should care for BBB, more concern for his well-being, more attention to the details of aquarium decor than I have about anything else this school year.

I should have them write a five-paragraph essay about it. I would instruct them with a pun: “Make sure you “fin”-ish it by the end of class. You “betta” stay focused.”

From the bottom of his aquarium, even Billy Bob Betta groans about my attempt at humor.

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