A Pet Alternative


Perhaps you, like me, would like to be one of those noble teachers with a classroom pet.  You’ve heard the student say, “Well last year Miss Miller had a rabbit/gerbil/parrot/goose and we got to name it and hold it every day! When are you getting a pet, Miss Zehr?”

But perhaps you, like me, have held funerals for goldfish, annihilated the tadpoles just when they were growing legs, and experienced the trauma of gerbils cannibalizing each other. Classroom pets certainly come with their own set of drama not to mention smell, classroom space, and time spent cleaning that cage.

In the last number of years, I resorted to sporadic efforts at raising sea monkeys. This is not as heroic as it may sound because it’s just a jazzy term for brine shrimp. You can buy them in the state of suspended animation in the Walmart toy aisle, add water and occasional​ food, and voila! However, they tend to be unsatisfactory as a pet. They’re microscopic when hatched but they will grow to the size of a small ant before you begin to neglect feeding them or adding fresh water and then they go the way of all flesh.

So last fall I hung two bird feeders outside my classroom window. In my mind, I envisioned flocks of chickadees, cardinals, and bluejays descending on our feeders. We prepared for them by lining up binoculars on the window shelf, because the nearest tree is a little far from the window. While my students became adept with the binoculars (That white car has a Delaware license plate, Miss Zehr!) we saw no birds.

Months passed. We continued to tempt birds with apples and oranges, toilet paper tubes iced with peanut butter and rolled in bird seed, and scattering seed on the snow .Those toilet paper tubes hung on the trees for weeks before I found evidence that something been pecking at the seeds. A cold birdless outdoors is all we saw though our binoculars remained trained and ready.

In morning prayers, we prayed for birds to come. Finally, we had the occasional blue jay. And then mourning doves. Then a nuthatch family moved into the neighborhood.

Since then, we’ve had chipping sparrows, house finches, goldfinches, cardinals, downy, hairy, and red-bellied woodpeckers, rose-breasted grosbeaks, and Baltimore orioles.

We no longer depend so heavily on binoculars since we moved some of the feeders next to the windows. Though we don’t have a classroom pet, our classroom feels a little less sterile with all that pecking, chirping, fluttering, fighting, and color just outside our windows.

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