Not So Furry Friends – Ms. Pettifer’s Class Pets

Article by Isabel Terrett

Ms. Pettifer is a history teacher here at Apex notorious for not only one class pet, but two- Kiwi the leopard gecko and Ozzie the bearded dragon. The stories of how these lizards found home in room 2214 are a little unconventional, and the ways they have impacted Ms. Pettifer’s students this year are notable achievements.

When asked why she wanted a class pet in the first place, Ms. Pettifer responded saying “Initially, I got very lonely when I was virtually teaching and the idea of a class pet came to me.” Mr. Dong, another social studies teacher at Apex, explained to her that there was a grant she could apply for through an organization called Pets in the Classroom. They work towards the goal to provide teachers with funding to obtain class pets that could provide an educational experience for the students. “I was like, ‘Oh, this is perfect, I could have an election to name the pet,’ which ties into Civics perfectly.”

After Ms. Pettifer received the grant, she was given a selection of animals she could choose from. She knew immediately that she didn’t want any furry friends, necessarily- so she ended up choosing a leopard gecko. Ms. Pettifer described hitting a slight fork in the road after obtaining the reptile, though. “I actually got one last spring, but since he lived with us all summer, my boyfriend got attached to him.” Together, they decided to keep the leopard gecko as a personal pet at home, but this meant that she didn’t have one to bring back to school. “Some of my kids who I had last year knew that there was a class pet, so then when they came back in and saw that I didn’t have a class pet anymore they were upset. So I was like ‘Okay, I’ll get another one for school.’ So, I got the leopard gecko [Kiwi].”

The process of obtaining the two leopard geckos worked very differently compared to Ozzie’s. Ms. Pettifer describes that “The leopard gecko was an intentional pick and the bearded dragon, not so much.” She notes that the opportunity was sprung on her, and it was an offer she couldn’t refuse. “I had a student- not even one of my students, just a student from the school- she knew from other teachers and students that I had a lizard, and her family had reptiles they were getting rid of. They were reptiles that they had brought into classrooms before, so they wanted them to become class pets.” That student then offered Ms. Pettifer a bearded dragon for free along with all of the necessary supplies to take care of it. Ms. Pettifer explained her initial thoughts, saying “I was thinking ‘Well, you know what? When was I ever gonna get an opportunity like this? To get a free pet with a free cage?’ And honestly, I wanted a bearded dragon.”

Ms. Pettifer is enthusiastic about the class pet’s impact on performance in the classroom. One of her main priorities include integrating social-emotional learning into her curriculum, and how she believes that the lizards have aided her in achieving that. “I think that they’ve been a great way for my kids to relax and destress. If they’re sitting there holding the lizard they really calm down, so it’s been really awesome in that sense.” She also described that even students who don’t really want to interact with the pets still benefit from having them in the classroom. “Even some of my kids who don’t want to hold them- I hear them say things like ‘Oh, he’s asleep right now,’ and hear different things, and they’re constantly checking up on them or bringing their friends to look at them.” Some of the students have been able to overcome their fears and have grown to love the lizards, eventually interacting with them in more ways than simple observation. “Even the kids who were initially scared of them or wary have grown to want to hold them or pet them, and it’s kind of like choosing your own adventure. If you want to hold it, you can. If you want to admire it from afar, you can- whatever makes you feel good about it.”

Finally , when asked whether she would recommend other teachers to acquire class pets, Ms. Pettifer responded absolutely with no hesitation. “I have not had them become a distraction at all. I think if anything, it’s definitely helped. The kids seem excited to come in every day and see them…I think it has been a great thing to have.”

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