One of the first things I wanted to do as a new science teacher was acquire a class pet. None of my teachers in school ever had one, and I always thought it was the best idea ever. I think in some way, I secretly hoped it would give me a “cool” factor to help woo my new students.
However, a great class pet comes with great responsibility. Being the planner that I am, I started to really wrap my head around the extra work involved with keeping this new friend alive. How much would it cost? What if it escapes? Who will take care of it over the summer? Am I liable if a child gets sick or bitten? What if the class pet gets sick? What happens if/when it dies?
With these questions in mind, I diligently researched what options would work best to humanely and safely incorporate a living creature into our daily classroom routine. While mammals are cute and fluffy, they need to eat often, poop a lot, and require frequent handling to stay tame. Fish seem like an easy class pet choice, but their lifespan is limited and maintaining the tank is a chore. Reptiles? Getting warmer (haha, but not really…get it? OK, nevermind).
My first thought was a lizard, but the maintenance requirements were still just a bit above my pay grade. I finally settled on what has become our perfect classroom companion. A snake.
Meet Sandy, our friendly Kenyan Sand Boa. He spends his days buried inconspicuously under the sand, while lending multiple opportunities throughout the course of the year for memorable learning experiences.
Terrariums? Check. Habitats? Check. Adaptations? Check. Camouflage? Check. Consumers? Check. Carnivores? Check.
So let’s get down to the nitty gritty. Here’s everything you need to know if you are thinking about getting a class pet for science.
- I thought cost would be the most prohibitive factor in this process, but it actually ended up being one of the easiest parts! Did you know you can get an education grant to cover most of your costs for obtaining a class pet, and additional money to use for the future care expenses? Check out Pets in the Classroom for more information on how you can get funding for the class pet of your dreams (within reason).
- As I mentioned earlier, having a class pet really can help support your teaching and provide learning opportunities your students wouldn’t get otherwise. It’s fairly easy to incorporate your pet, especially in life science units.
- Students often don’t have their own pets at home, so they really enjoy the shared “ownership” of helping care for the class pet. I haven’t had to clean the terrarium myself in 5 years (except for summer time!).
- A class pet is also a great way to teach your students about responsibility and caring for something other than themselves.
- You can TOTALLY leverage the pet for behavior modification purposes. You students will BEG for opportunities to see/hold the class pet, so make them earn it. Just don’t abuse this power.
- That cool factor I secretly hoped for? It’s real. The students coming into my class from lower grades hear about “the snake” from older students and siblings I have taught. They are always excited and curious to meet Sandy. The little ones even stop me in the hall on occasion to inquire about him.
- If you are an animal lover like I am, you are gaining a family member. I knew going into this that if I were to ever stop teaching, the pet would always have a home with me. Which is good, considering this guy has a lifespan of like 25 years.
- As teachers, we are already responsible for keeping our students alive on a daily basis. Managing a pet on top of your other duties can be overwhelming at times, so make sure you are up for the task. Class pets aren’t for everyone and that’s OK!
- Sometimes your students can get a little TOO excited about the class pet, and it can cause a distraction. Most science classrooms are accustomed to the extra hustle and bustle, but if you don’t have the patience for your students going bonkers when the pet comes out of hiding or does something cute, you might want to reconsider.
- You will occasionally have out of pocket expenses that your grant doesn’t cover. Make sure you have a class pet emergency fund in place for things like burned out bulbs, terrarium accessories, and in (hopefully) unlikely cases, veterinary care.
- Ethical concerns are real. Some might argue that it is inhumane to keep a class pet. I make sure to care for it as if it were MY pet, so I don’t feel as though the snake’s quality of life is suffering…but that is my personal opinion.
- Children are not always the most gentle creatures, so having strict handling guidelines in place are absolutely necessary. My students are never allowed to put their hands inside the terrarium or remove the snake from it on their own. All students do have the opportunity to touch him, however, I usually have one or two students in each class that I have “trained” to correctly handle the snake in the event he makes a visit around the room. Even then, I have shown all students the correct way to “pet” the snake as to not injure him or damage his scales.
- Some pets live a long time, and you need to factor that into your decision to bring one into your classroom. Are you ready to assume responsibility for the pet once your tenure is over? I have been approached by former teachers on MORE than one occasion asking me to take their pets, and I have had to respectfully decline because I know I couldn’t adequately care for multiple pets at school (though I did help find them suitable homes).
- Anytime there is ANY animal loose on campus, you will be the “go to” person. So far I have helped capture a cat, a dog, two wrens, a garter snake, countless lizards and spiders, and a parakeet (yes, it talked). Be prepared.
I wasn’t kidding. Wherever I go, the animals always find me…
Having a class pet isn’t always a walk in the park, but don’t let the list of cons scare you. For me, the benefits outweigh any negative factors. I love how happy it makes my students, and the extra educational value isn’t too shabby either.
Just make sure you plan carefully, and choose a pet that is appropriate for both your grade level and your life. I never imagined having a snake for a pet, but it was the right fit for us and I wouldn’t change a thing.
My students especially love feeding time, when I let the class with the best behavior for the week watch the snake eat live through the document cam. See? Leverage. And they don’t even know it’s happening.
NEXT: Looking for some lab day fun? Check out these ExCELLent Cell Models!