Classroom pets. As teachers, we never really turn off that part of our brain that makes us teachers. Even though most of us might be on holiday 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!
But 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, we are all rested and refreshed. We then head off to the pet store and take their advice on low-maintenance pets.
I had fish tanks in my classrooms during my first two years of teaching. I thought my students enjoyed these visual displays of life until it became my responsibility to feed, clean, and maintain the tanks. Eventually, I got so discouraged with the “accidental overfeedings” and lack of interest in the fish that I took them home.
- Two guinea pigs
- One rabbit
- One dog
- One cat
- Five freshwater fish tanks with everything from goldfish and beta fish to sharks
I may not be Jack Hanna, but I consider myself a pretty knowledgeable person regarding pets.
Why I Say NO To Classroom Pets
People feel that rats, fish, frogs, guinea pigs, and rabbits are small, suitable classroom pets. But I strongly disagree because:
- Classroom pets strain the animals because of the constant attention they receive from the students. Would you enjoy being confined to a small space and constantly having people press their faces to your home and try to touch you?
- Our classrooms are not quiet, calm oases. They are loud, busy, and bright workspaces. Animals need calm environments not to elevate their stress levels. Animals in these types of environments can develop many unnatural nervous behaviours. Why do zoo animals bang their heads against the walls or the cage bars?
- Teachers can’t monitor their class pets’ needs 24/7 as their first priority is their students. Can you ensure the classroom temperature is appropriate for your classroom pet? This winter, my classroom was the coldest in the school, averaging an internal temperature of 66 degrees Fahrenheit (18.8 degrees Celcius). My students and I wore many layers and sometimes our winter coats.
- Classroom pets have a LONG lifespan – they go well beyond the ten months of the school year. Who will care for the pet over the weekend? Or on holiday breaks and summer vacations? You cannot leave a pet alone in a dark room every weekend; not every family wants the joy of bringing them home. My guinea pig was the runt of the litter. The pet store told me she would only live a few years. She is approaching seven 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 unhappy living in a cage. They need regular floor and cuddle time like any other pet.
Creative Alternatives to Classroom Pets
- Animal Sponsorship: Consider sponsoring a non-traditional classroom pet from a farm or animal sanctuary for the year. This supports these worthy causes, and the students learn valuable information. Depending on the sanctuary’s location, you could take a class trip and learn how to care for animals. Many sanctuaries have Facebook pages, blogs, and websites that a class or individual students could look at for updates on their favourite animals. Once, I adopted three donkeys 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 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 and toys for the dogs. Class projects, such as adopting a charity, enable the students to meet curriculum expectations while planning and preparing an event.
- Stuffed Animals: These also make great classroom pets. The stuffy can sit on a different student’s desk daily and go on trips with a different student each weekend. If students go on a long holiday, they can take the animal with them. Have the class create a journal/scrapbook of their time with the 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 further and adopt an endangered species from the World Wildlife 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 a classroom pet. Take your class outside for regular nature walks and have them observe the 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, other plants, and animals by the tracks they left behind. They are transferable skills that his students will remember for years to come.
I hope this post has given you insight into the classroom pet debate. Having a classroom pet isn’t for everyone, and if you’re like me, I hope this helps you reconsider your class pet ideas for your students.
Do your students love animals? They might love some of these activities:
- Japan’s Cat Islands – Click HERE to get this resource.
- Pet-Themed Digital Escape Room – Click HERE to get this resource.
- Media Literacy Lesson – Dog DNA Tests – Click HERE for this resource.
- Pet Memes Narrative Writing Assignment – Find on Teachers Pay Teachers USD and Shopify CAD.
- Canadian History Sub Plans – Parliament Hill Cat Colony – Find on Teachers Pay Teachers USD and Shopify CAD.
Japan’s Cat Islands, the Pet-Themed Digital Escape Room, and the Dog DNA Tests Media Literacy Lesson are all FREE when you sign up for the 2 Peas and a Dog email list. Once you sign up, your resource will be sent to your inbox.