Classroom Pets: Is the Experience Worth the Responsibility?

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Pets have proven to be a popular addition to many classrooms in recent years. From kindergarten to high school classrooms, pets have much to offer—a firsthand look into the life cycle of an animal, a lesson on caring for a living creature, and a sweet companion. What’s not to love?

Classroom pets range from reptiles to rodents; according to petMD, the five “best” pets are bearded dragons, guinea pigs, rabbits, rats, and fish. The type of classroom pet chosen should depend on the subject matter and desires of the class, along with the needs of the animal. For example, a teacher hoping to provide a hands-on experience for her students may choose a rabbit while teachers anticipating an experience based off of visual learning may choose a fish. 

Classroom pets can be especially resourceful in a science classroom, where the animals can be studied in real-time. Elementary classrooms are a hot spot for pets, as the young students are eager to learn about them. For many students, a classroom pet is their first exposure to caring for a pet and it can be a teaching opportunity as children begin to inquire about how to care for animals.

While classroom pets undeniably offer a wealth of opportunity that may be unreachable with mere pictures and descriptions of animals, they can often be more work than many teachers—and students—anticipate. First, teachers must decide which pet would be best suited for their classroom based on environment, possible student allergies, and school guidelines. Many schools do not allow pets, while others encourage the decision. Then, plans must be made for pets during weekends, holidays, and summers. This often means the teacher will be responsible for the pet simply because many students can’t be expected to provide an ideal environment for these pets at home.

Is the classroom truly the ideal environment in the first place? The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals shares that the classroom could be a dangerous place for pets: “It’s virtually impossible for an animal in a classroom to be protected at every single moment when children outnumber adults.” 

While it is possible to set up a seemingly safe environment for a classroom pet, we must ask the question: are we willing to monitor the pet at all times? Do we trust each and every student in the classroom to handle the pet properly?

When considering a pet, it’s important to consider both the needs of the kids and the pets before jumping in. On one hand, a teacher could inspire a future veterinarian. On the other hand, a teacher could be adding an extra living, breathing body with different needs to an already-large classroom. 

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Highlight of my entire week. During free seating, a student asked if he could sit by Hamilton, as he happened to be out and about in his cage. I agreed, as long as he didn’t bother ham ham- he is kind of a grump. Little did I know that he was going to read to him, show him the pictures, and asking him which books he preferred. It was too sweet and he was so into it he didn’t even notice me grabbing my phone to snap a quick pic. Swipe for a video. My heart ?? #hamilton #hedgehog #reading #sweetestthing #readtoyourpet #classroompet #adorable #iteachtoo #teachersfollowteachers #teachersofinstagram #teacher #teacherlife #elementaryteacher #elementarylibrary #library #librarian #librariesofinstagram #mediaspecialist

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For me, it’s been worth it in the past. I see kids’ eyes light up as they learn to care for an animals’ needs when often they never have before. Going forward? I fear for the liability. I fear a hamster bite and a call from a parent. I fear finding a pet dead and having to explain to a classroom about the course of life. I fear not meeting a pet’s needs in my classroom. When the decision arises, I’m torn between wanting the experience and fearing it as well because I know. I know that adding a pet to my classroom could be lifechanging for my students—and I also know it’s a task I can’t take lightly.

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Whitney Ballard is a writer and teacher from small town Alabama. She owns the Trains and Tantrums blog, https://trainsandtantrums.blog/. Whitney went from becoming a mom at sixteen to holding a Master’s degree in Education; she writes about her journey, along with daily life, through a Christian lens on her blog. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her in the backyard with her husband, two boys, and two dogs.

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