Oh, the awkward middle school years. Many of us adults have memories of goofy hairstyles, peace signs and red, white, & blue polyester outfits that we thought were cool but in actuality were hideous! I love teaching this age but it’s not without its challenges. Kids enter the 6th grade practically babies but with any luck will go on to the 7th a little more mature. Instead of polyester pantsuits, I anticipate my students having different memories of their middle school years. Hopefully they will always look back on 6th grade and remember that our classroom was a mini-zoo! Literally!
Ten years ago when I began teaching, I didn’t have a single critter in my 7th grade classroom other than me and my students. My youngest son had received a guinea pig for Christmas the year before and its newness had worn off. Mr. Cuddles was the sweetest guinea pig that ever lived. He was so gentle but was not getting the attention he deserved. I mentioned to my principal, Mr. Brady that I would like to bring Mr. Cuddles into my class if he didn’t mind. Academics would always come first however. Thankfully he was okay with it and surprisingly my 7th graders weren’t too cool to love on him while talking baby talk. I was shocked at how excited they were over him! Mr. Cuddles started it all. Next a friend asked me if I would like to try a rabbit in the classroom that was stuck in a small cage at her house and never got out. Thumper came into our class and had free range around the room. Her cage set in the floor; she ventured around & would stop at the student’s desks for some loving. It took me about 15 minutes to teach her to use a litter box. She has never chewed a cord or destroyed anything expensive or important. She has however devoured the occasional snack left in the floor by forgetful students. Shockingly, Thumper is alive still today. She’s blind, has tumors, and doesn’t venture far from her cage. I firmly believe the only reason she’s still alive is because of the love & attention my students give her. But she’s not the only one that’s gained in the relationship. When my students pet her soft fur, they are immediately calmed. Study after study touts the calming effects stroking a dog or similar animal can bring us humans. Our blood pressure is even lowered.
I have been truly blessed to bring my love of animals to my students. All of my principals have been supportive of our ‘zoo’ even if they have all hated snakes. We do have one of those as well. I want to expose my kids to different kinds of animals. Today our zoo is composed of Thumper, 4 guinea pigs (Mr. Cuddles has left us), 1 cockatiel (“Lewie Berg”), 1 fat tail gecko, 2 crested geckos, & 1 king snake, & our newest critter is a hedgehog & she is fabulous! Our crested geckos just laid their first egg and we are all thrilled!! If the egg is viable and not a dud like I suspect, we’ll have some great memories!! Hopefully they’ll have many more eggs to follow.
Having all these animals is a lot of work-during school & in the summer. My students are tremendous help and their parents are great sports. I never encourage my students to purchase animals of their own but rather to enjoy ours at LMS. My students learn about each animal including where they are from etc. They learn about caring for something other than themselves. When we study bird behaviors such as preening, we can watch Lewie and see what it’s all about. Those are the memories I want my students to carry with them. I hope they tell their kids they had this crazy science teacher in middle school whose name they can’t remember but they do recollect holding and loving on our ‘zoo’.
Mrs. Creager – 6th grade Science