It’s already back to school time and that means it’s the perfect opportunity to spend some time discussing animals in the classroom. I am a mother of 2 children, ages 11 and 15. Historically, I was raised around animals in the classroom being referred to as “classroom animals” or “classroom pets” and I’ve made it a mini mission to educate, advocate, and promote “Teacher’s Pets” as opposed to “classroom” anything.
I think animals in the classroom can be extremely positive and beneficial. Children, who may not otherwise be exposed to animals, for whatever reason, can get some experiences with animals in their classes at school. Animals in the classroom can offer a number of opportunities for lessons in empathy, responsibility, respect, biology, and more, but teacher’s pets are ultimately the teacher’s companion animal and the teacher’s responsibility which is what distinguishes teachers’ pets from classroom animals. The key difference in these two situations is responsibility, and that is one of the primary reasons why teachers will bring animals into the classroom to begin with. It’s an effort to teach the kids in the class about responsibility and taking care of another living being.
I strongly believe that, in order to teach responsibility, it needs to be demonstrated and this why I respect teacher’s pets. Teachers who care for a pet and choose to bring their pet into the classroom to share with the kids are being responsible. This is their companion animal. The kids in the classroom are assisting with the care of this animal but it is not the classroom’s responsibility – it is the teacher’s. Animals need stability just like children and, to that end, teacher’s pets are *not* sent home with different families every weekend. They go home with the teacher. These animals may live in the classroom during the week or go home with the teacher every night. They definitely go home with the teacher for the weekends. If the teacher needs a pet sitter for a weekend or holiday, then maybe they will work out with one of the families in the classroom to watch the animal(s) but the ultimate responsibility is with the teacher.
If you are a teacher who incorporates, or is thinking about incorporating, animals into the classroom, or a parent with a child in a classroom that has animals, please think twice about what exactly is being modeled for the kids. Is someONE actually responsible for that animal? Are the animals being properly maintained and provided for? Are the animals safe and secure? As a parent, I want my children to respect life in all its forms and I want to promote responsible animal care and maintenance. I believe it is the responsibility of the teacher to evaluate these aspects before choosing to incorporate animals into their classroom and I believe it is the responsibility of the parents to be aware of what is happening in the classroom and voice any concerns that they may have.
Animals need care and stability and I believe that behavior needs to be modeled. Teachers and parents model and children mimic. As a responsible model, take a moment to think about your behavior. Children may not always listen to what you say but they are always watching what you do and actions will usually speak louder than words anyway. Demonstrate and lead by example. Show children how to be responsible and respectful of pets and animals and we’ll be able to raise a generation of youth that cares.