As teacher we never really turn off that part of our brain that makes us teachers. Even though most of us are on holidays right now we are still thinking about our classrooms. I was at an antique flea market yesterday, and kept taking photos of old technology so I could incorporate those photos into my History lessons in the fall. I am super excited to show my students a rotary dial phone!
As we start to plan our new classrooms for next year we often think “wouldn’t it be cute to have a class pet?” This idea starts as a seed in our brains and then by the end of the summer after we are all rested and refreshed. We head off to the pet store to take their advice on what low maintenance pets.
During my first two years of teaching I had fish tanks in my classrooms. I thought my students really enjoyed these visual displays of life until it become my responsibility to feed, clean and maintain the tanks. Eventually I got so discouraged with the “accidental over feedings” and lack of interest in the fish that I took them home.
In my personal life, over the past six years I have had 2 guinea pigs, 1 rabbit, 1 dog , 1 cat and 5 fresh water fish tanks (everything from goldfish, beta fish to sharks). I may not be Jack Hanna, but I do consider myself a pretty knowledgeable person when it comes to pets.
Why I Say NO to Class Pets
People feel that rats, fish, frogs, guinea pigs, rabbits are all small suitable classroom pets. But I strongly disagree because:
- Classroom pets put a strain on the animal because of the constant attention they receive from the students. Would you enjoy being confined to a small space and constantly have people press their faces to your home and try to touch you?
- Our classrooms are not quiet calm oasis’. They are loud, busy and bright work spaces. Animals need calm environments to not elevate their stress levels. Animals in these types of environments can develop a lot of unnatural nervous behaviours. Ever wonder why zoo animals bang their heads against the walls or the cage bars?
- It is impossible for a teacher to monitor their class pets’ needs 24/7 as their first priority is to their students. Will you be able to ensure the classroom temperature is appropriate for your pet? This winter my classroom was the coldest in the school averaging an internal temperature of 66 degrees Fahrenheit or 18.8 degrees Celsius. My students and I would where lots of layers and sometimes our winter coats.
- Class pets have a long lifespan – they go beyond the 10 months of the school year. Who will care for the pet over the weekend? on holiday breaks and summer vacation? You cannot leave a pet alone in a dark room every weekend and not every family wants the joy of bringing fluffy home. My personal guinea pig was the runt of the litter. The pet store told me she would only live a few years. She is approaching 7 years old now. As much as I love her she creates a lot of work for me. When her cage mate died, I felt so bad that I bought her a rescue bunny from my local shelter. Rabbits have a long life span and are not happy to just live in a cage. They need regular floor time and cuddle time just like any other pet.
Creative Alternatives to Class Pets
- Animal Sponsorship: Consider sponsoring a non traditional class pet for the year from a farm or animal sanctuary. This provides much needed support to these worthy causes and the students get to learn valuable information. Depending on the location of the sanctuary you could take a class trip and see firsthand how to care for animals. Many sanctuaries have Facebook pages, blogs and websites that as a class or individual students could look for updates on their favourite animals. I adopted three donkeys this past year from The Donkey Sanctuary of Canada and my grade 8 students loved these unique pets.
- Help Out An Animal Shelter: Another teacher I know, partnered her class up with a local dog rescue and at Christmas held a treat and toy drive at their school. The students used their creativity to market this event and raised money as well as toys for the dogs. Class projects such as adopting a charity enable the students to meet curriculum expectations as they are planning and preparing an event.
- Stuffed animals also make great class pets. The stuffy can sit on a different student’s desk each day and can go on trips with a different student each weekend. If a student is going on a long holiday they can take the animal with them. Have the class create a journal/scrapbook of their alone time with stuffy. This is a great way to engage students in literacy. It is like a 3D Flat Stanley project.
- Adopt An Endangered Animal: Take the stuffed animal one step farther and adopt an endangered species from the WorldWild Life Fund. As a class research the different species at risk available and raise the money to purchase your new friend.
- Go Outside: Lastly you do not need to have a class pet. Take your class outside for regular nature walks and have them observe their natural surroundings. A teacher at my school took his students down to the pond in their neighbourhood. He taught the students how to identify birds and other plants and animals by the tracks they left behind. These are transferable skills that his students will remember for years to come.