It doesn’t take long for visitors to my home to notice Angel, my calico cat. She quickly sizes up a person, and if they’re friendly, she’ll walk up to them and begin catspeak. If they’re sitting, she’s liable to hop onto their lap without warning. She’ll look up as if to say, “Do you realize how special you are that I’ve chosen your lap?”
Some of my students are especially fascinated by Angel. If she doesn’t appear upon their arrival, they want to know where she is. Angel has become an asset to my tutoring. During the winter months, she spends most of her time in a chair in front of the bay window, in close proximity to my students. In fact they can actually reach out their hands and touch her. One little boy will pet her at least a couple of times during our sessions, sometimes not even turning from his work as he does this. Just her presence gives comfort. Most of the time she naps; sometimes she snores, providing comic relief. If you have a cat, you know that it has a very calming effect on those aournd it. This is beneficial for children who may already be anxious about their academic performance. It seems as if Angel is saying, “Take it easy and relax.” When I began working with J. he was stubborn and did not want help nor would he listen to instruction, but he liked Angel. He tried to pet her, but his approach was to charge her, and she could easily outrun him. I told him that Angel would come to him if he would simply squat and hold out his hand, but initially he refused. However, J. had met his match and finally learned that Angel was more stubborn. A year and a half later, J. is very different both with me and with Angel as evidenced by the photo.
Pip was the name of our class pet the final year I taught in a classroom. He was a left over science project. My students asked to adopt him; someone brought in a hamster cage, and they all promised to feed and keep his home clean. So he stayed. All of the fifth and sixth graders loved him. Most would take him out and hold him. One girl enjoyed tearing paper strips to replenish his bedding. My only job was to purchase food from the pet store. Pip became a welcome distraction at the moments we most needed him. He even escaped his cage a couple of times, causing concern among fellow teachers, but we always discovered him in our room and returned him safely to his cage.
The hermit crab was a favorite pet of a fellow teacher. Each year she bought a new one and had a contest among her second graders to name it. The hermit crab remained in her class the entire year. The children could remove it from its aquarium; they built houses for it out of Legos and made obstacle courses for it to maneuver. They even gave it bits of fruit from their lunches. At the end of each year, she held a second contest, and the winning child kept the crab. As she told me, the crab was a perfect pet, requiring little maintenance. Giving them away to the students at the end of the year meant it had a home, and she didn’t have to worry with it. An added benefit is their hardiness, living for several years.
I’ve known other teachers who’ve kept pets. In my experience they are always a welcome addition. What about you? Do you have a classroom pet, or did you have one growing up? Was it more of an asset or distraction?