Rock On! The history of a history teacher’s collection


Ms. Devi Puckett sits with some of her favorite rocks in her history classroom. Growing up, Ms. Puckett says she was the kind of kid who “always had rocks in her pockets”. Photo by Emily Weaver

Ms. Devi Puckett’s classroom is unlike any other at the school. The walls are azure blue, tiles are painted with alumnae artwork, and different types of crystals, fossils, and rocks sit by the windows.

“They spark my imagination,” Ms. Puckett explained. “They anchor me to the past, like remembering where this garnet came from. Part of it is sharing with other people, like, ‘this is cool – have you ever seen a garnet like that?’”

Her interest for collecting rocks started in junior high, when Ms. Puckett started cleaning houses to make  money. She worked for a woman whose husband donated part of his rock collection to the Natural History Museum in Denver. His wife started giving Ms. Puckett rocks from his remaining collection. “She would pay me and then she would give me rocks sometimes,” Ms. Puckett says. “There’s a bunch in here that I’ve had since 1981.”

Ms.Puckett brought some of her rock collection to school so new students in her class can enjoy them with her. “Also,” she adds, “I’m allowed to think about and admire nature and the immense amount of variety and beauty in nature.”

For students in her class, Ms. Puckett’s rock collection is a talking point. “I think [the rocks] are pretty cool,” Carmen Whitten (11) commented. “I just think it’s kind of unique that she’s a history teacher and has, like, science-y stuff.”

Like Ms. Puckett, Whitten has experience with collecting objects.

“I’ve [collected rocks] in the past,” said Whitten, “I used to collect stickers. My brother collects bottle caps.”

Other students have a rock collection of their own.

“I actually think her rock collection is pretty gangster,” Julia Apagya-Bonney (11) said. “I have a rock collection of my own at home, and it’s pretty fun, but the rocks that Ms. Puckett has are pretty intense. She has a better rock collection than I do.”

If she didn’t collect rocks, Ms. Puckett says she would collect antiques, animals, money from foreign countries photography, or art. But Ms. Puckett not only collects her rocks by the dozen, she uses them as decoration in her home.

“Part of it is I like the energy it brings to a room,” Ms. Puckett said. “I have them all over my garden outside. They’re hidden in the garden, they’re on shelves in my house. I have them in my windows. I don’t think there’s a room in my house without a rock somewhere.”

“It’s so funny,” she laughed, “Most people are respectful and they won’t touch them, but I don’t mind. I love it when people look at something and go, ‘what is this? I want to know more about it.’ Or just, ‘ooh, pretty!’ That’s okay too!”

Despite having many to choose from, Ms. Puckett had no difficulty picking the rocks that came to live in her classroom. Moving them there, however, was a less easy task.

“This is a quarter of my collection… ish,” Ms. Puckett laughed. “I don’t have all my rocks here. This was heavy enough to carry in. It’s like the joke: what’ve you got in there? Rocks? Yes, I have a box of rocks. I really do.”

Ms. Puckett strategically chose some rocks for her classroom, especially ones that she thought would interest students.

“There were some [rocks] I knew I wanted to bring for sure,” she added. “Like, I love the labradorite heart because of the smoothness; people really like holding it. The same with the copper and the rainbow obsidian. They’re all very therapeutic. When you hold it for a while you think, ‘this is nice.’ You feel yourself calming, and that’s important to me for rocks.”

Not only do Ms. Puckett’s rocks each have their unique properties, they’ve come from all around the world. Some of the collection she’s found herself, including a mammoth tooth, aggots from Kenya, obsidian from California, and rose granite from Colorado.

“Some of them were given to me,” Ms. Puckett continued. “Some students gave me ‘the Eye of Sauron,’ if you know Lord of the Rings. It’s actually a fossil and it has several layers of fossilized animals in it. Somebody carved these three peaks [in it], it looks like the Eye of Sauron could sit right there. I like that it was a gift.”

Regardless of their origins, the rocks in Ms. Puckett’s extensive collection are displayed on the windowsill that takes up an entire wall of her classroom, ready to be held by students and teachers alike.

When asked which was her favorite rock, Ms. Puckett replied, “they’re like children. You don’t have favorite rocks. I couldn’t pick one – are you kidding? They’re all special.”