On the Lighter Side: Classroom Pets

Two years ago some well-meaning IB students decided I NEEDED a classroom turtle.  I was hesitant as I was happy with my simple fish tank, especially when considering long breaks like Christmas and summer.  However, the students said they would get everything and set it up so I consented.  I let the students handle the entire situation and before I knew it there were two turtles, each named after a boy in the class.

Isn’t that a violation of Parenting 101?  You never name a pet after a child, as you do not want the child identifying with the pet in the event that the pet dies.  So there I was with two turtles named after two students.  One student’s parents were transferred at Christmas so that eased the stress of “What if a turtle dies?” Well, shortly after his departure, a turtle did die.  It took some convincing but I was able to assure the class that the deceased turtle was, indeed, the one named after the student who had moved. 

The remaining turtle has been a little companion for two years now.  He actually has personality and reacts frantically when I walk into the room.  His little head follows student movement in the classroom and he takes food from their hands, much to their delight.  Sometimes he glides to one end of the tank and then swims backwards, glides again and swims backwards.  It’s so adorable and brings visitors from all over the school, including elementary kids.  Most of all, however, I love how he brings big 12th grade boys to a state of absolute intrigue, especially when testing whether the turtle would eat mealworms left over from their transfer of energy experiment.

I’ve always had a fish tank in my classroom.  It’s easy.  It’s pretty.  It’s relaxing.  I read somewhere that people who spend a portion of each day observing a fish tank have lowered stress in their lives.  So, it seems like a good thing to have.  The students are always checking on the fish and it provides pleasure.

However, this past Christmas holiday disaster struck.  As soon as I entered my classroom I immediately observed mass death in my fish tank.  Of the 15 healthy fish I left before the break, only 3 stragglers barely moved in the tank, appearing to hang on for dear life.  What happened?  Did my colleague forget to feed them or put in the vacation tablets?  Why is the filter not running?  Upon closer inspection I discovered that someone, probably with good intentions of safety and/or energy conservation unplugged all electrical devices in my room, including both the heater and the filter system of my fish tank.  The dreary scene in the tank was disheartening.

I’ve transferred these three die-hards to a new tank while the old tank is cleaned and primed for new use.   I feel a strange attachment to them as “survivors”.   They have become a symbol of perseverance and are currently the highlighted feature of the classroom. The news of their traumatic experience has spread throughout the school and lured people to come visit these amazing little creatures again providing both staff and students with a sense of interest and hope.

Despite the risk of loss that living creatures bring, I think a biology classroom should have pets.