This is the first year I have had a class pet, which is indeed an interesting choice for someone who operates out of a computer lab. (I do not have a homeroom this year.) Some are born with pets, some achieve class pets, and some have class pets thrust upon them. In my case, a friend of mind (not a teacher) needed to find a new home for his pet lizard and, after doing some research, I accepted responsibility.
My little dude is a leopard gecko.
(Isn’t he so pretty?)
He was originally called Leo, but I renamed him Qwerty, as he lives in the computer lab now. The moment when a student first realized where the name comes from was unforgettable. “QWERTY is right across the top of the keyboard!” he cried. “HIS NAME IS AT THE TOP OF THE LETTERS!”
A leopard gecko makes a great class pet. He is super chill and basically all the time quiet. He defecates in only one area of his tank, so it’s so simple to spot clean. (His whole tank does get a thorough cleaning once a week, and his reptile carpet goes through the washing machine the custodians kindly let me use.) Sometimes he sheds his skin and then eats it. Dang, dude!
He does also have the quirk of eating only live insects. Actually, keeping crickets alive long enough to feed to him is probably more labor-intensive than the lizard himself. Luckily, I can get live crickets at the local pet store for a dollar a dozen that don’t chirp. He only needs to eat some every few days. I stash them in what’s called a “cricket keeper” which makes feeding Qwerty super easy, and I don’t actually have to touch any crickets or risk them escaping.
Actually, let’s talk about cost. Crickets and treats like mealworms run pretty cheap, but his little habitat did not. However, I did not purchase his home sweet home — he came with the whole kit and caboodle from my friend’s house. (I did buy him some additional fake plants, because who can resist spoiling their pet?) My understanding is that the whole tank and accessories can run very expensive, especially since, as a nocturnal reptile native to the desert, Qwerty needs both a heat lamp and a light lamp. My friend had also custom-made a totally sweet electronic set-up where the heat lamp and light lamp turn themselves on and off. I just have to make sure the bulbs still work from time to time. I also keep a thermometer in the tank to make sure it doesn’t get too hot or cold. (According to my research, leopard geckos like it between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit in their environment – fine by me, since the computer lab skews warm normally.) So luckily I saved a lot of money by inheriting this particular pet plus his swanky digs, rather than starting from scratch.
But let’s talk about how he fits into the class. When I first got him, the kids were extremely interested in him. They learned quickly, however, not to crowd around – he didn’t like it so much. They learned to be quiet around him, because he will come out to watch what they’re doing. At first he wouldn’t eat when he knew kids were watching, so I set up a few “Lizard Lunch Live Cams” so kids throughout the building could tune in and watch him hunt. (Especially a big hit when second graders were learning about ecosystems.) He has become more comfortable around them as time goes by, and he certainly isn’t a distraction in class.
Having a class pet can be a classroom management strategy. The kids are very empathetic towards an animal. “Qwerty is a nocturnal animal; he sleeps during the day and is awake at night,” I told the kids. “So if you’re quiet enough for him to fall asleep, then you’re being very kind and very respectful of him.” Sometimes I tell students that Qwerty is cranky (on days when I’m cranky), or he has a headache (on days I have a headache), and they react very compassionately and try to be on their best behavior. This goes both ways — one time a student came in, looking to be on the verge of tears. I pulled him aside and said, “Hey, Qwerty’s upset today because I cleaned his cage. He’s mad at me. Could you talk to him for me and see if you can make him feel better?” I gave them both some privacy, but I could see the student from across the room exhort Qwerty to try and improve his mood and forgive me, because I had good intentions. He gave a full-fledged pep talk and I think sold himself on having a better attitude; when he was done talking to a lizard he was ready to get to work. We project on pets, and when we are aware of that, we can reap some benefits from it.
(Of course, when students are driven to distraction by Qwerty, I shoo them away saying Qwerty has been grounded; mostly I accuse him of playing with his food.)
Overwhelmingly, I have had a positive experience so far with having a class pet. I would definitely recommend a leopard gecko for relative newbies in the class pet department. I think if you raise one from a baby, they can even become accustomed to human handling. (Alas, this is not something Qwerty can do right now — he clearly does not like human touch, though he tolerates very light petting on occasion.) With a reptile, you do need to have hand sanitizer at the ready, because they can have salmonella bacteria on their skin — it’s a precaution you would probably take with any class pet, plus students don’t normally have food in the computer lab, so that’s all fine by me. He’s small, he’s docile, and he is less maintenance than the copy machine we have in the library. (Seriously, who keeps jamming that thing and then walking away!?) Qwerty the leopard gecko earns an A+ for being a fabulous classroom pet!