Tiger, the Teaching Gecko

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He had no degree or educational training. But a gecko named Tiger was one of the most effective teachers Bronwyn Harris’ students ever had.

One of the best investments I ever made as a teacher was a baby lizard.

My third graders dealt with trauma often, as I taught in the most violent part of Oakland. Many lived in poverty and came to school hungry. Others were homeless. Many had seen friends or family shot.

With all this need in my classroom, people told me to spend money on books or pencils or food for the kids, which I did. But this little reptile was worth every penny and more.

The kids named him Tiger for his stripes that turned into spots as he grew. They were fascinated by him chasing and eating crickets, saying he was showing off to impress them. They loved him.


Tiger made science more relatable. When one student offered to make him little gecko sweaters, I tied it to a lesson about the difference between cold-blooded and warm-blooded animals. The kids were curious about his natural habitat and why he shed his skin.

Tiger taught me how much my students needed a connection with an animal. They made him valentines and decorated his cage for holidays. They wrote poems. He watched them intently and they worked harder to be a good example for him, assuming his attention meant he felt a personal connection with them.

The kids didn’t just need to love Tiger; they needed to feel love in return. They wrote journal entries saying, “I love Tiger and I know he loves me so much.” When picking him up, they’d swear that he smiled right at them because of their special bond, or that he came out of his coconut shell house to encourage them during a test.

That little gecko is gone now, and he’ll never understand the vital role he played. My students, with little stability in their lives, needed to practice loving and accepting love. I know our little pet didn’t actually care about valentines and sweaters, but I will be forever grateful he was there to receive them.

With a Perspective, I’m Bronwyn Harris.

Bronwyn Harris is a teacher, author and public speaker.