Teacher's pet

Tuesday, October 3, 2006
Russell Grammer, fourth-grade teacher, used gestures to explain how a tiny bug must feel when touched by human hands. Many area teachers use classroom pets to keep children interested, help them learn the responsibilities of pet care and just be entertained. (Diane L. Wilson)

There's more than students in John Stephen's classroom at Jefferson Elementary School in Cape Girardeau. Stephens, a special education teacher, has guppies, frogs, danios, tropical fish and a tiger barb to keep him company.

For some students, school can be a challenge. That's where the animals come in.

"If you say, 'when you get your math done you can go look at the snake', it gives them motivation," Stephens said.

Animals in the classroom can be great learning tools as well.

Russell Grammer, fourth-grade teacher at Jefferson Elementary, has a variety of pets in his classroom, including four baby garter snakes, a pregnant praying mantis, blue tail skink, slugs and one large snake.

"When a student sees a preying mantis on my nose, the lesson sticks with them, and it's valuable for the classroom," Grammer said.

Some students don't have pets at home and having one in the classroom teaches them the responsibilities of pet care.

Jason Bruns, a seventh-grade science teacher at Jackson Middle school, has an albino oscar, Missouri snapping turtles, dragonfish, shark bala and a three-and-a-half-foot long iguana named after the late Steve Irwin.

In the other science classroom at Jackson Middle School, there is an 80-gallon saltwater fish tank with starfish, sea urchin, conch, and many tropical fish.

Having a classroom pet is a great opportunity for students to see how animals live and how to care for them. Some teachers say having certain kinds of animals is relaxing for the students if they are feeling stressed.

Becky Hicks, a second grade teacher at Blanchard Elementary, says she has classroom pets because they give students the opportunity to see up close the changes in behavior.

Some pets provide entertainment for the students.

Rachel Bohnsack, first-grade teacher at Jefferson Elementary, has a hamster named Petry.

"When the students are good, I'll put Petry in his ball and let him roll around the classroom," she said.

Aimee Reinhardt is a student at Southeast Missouri State University interning with the Southeast Missourian.

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