This is not my story to tell, so I hope my friend Sharon forgives me. Something she just went through inspired this tale. And Betsy Devos. Add my own experiences, too.
Betsy recently used a Shutterstock photo to demonstrate classrooms are no different today than they were in the 50s: factory-model workspaces that program robotic children. To say teachers pushed back doesn’t describe the scope of it. Not only is her lie insulting as its face value, it’s also offensive because of the money teachers spend to decorate and supply their classrooms.
How many teachers do I know who’ve requested donations for flexible seating furniture? Bought their own books? I cannot count the thousands of dollars I’ve spent on books, posters, lighting, shelving, pencils, paper, craft supplies, costumes, props: and the time spent putting it all together. Climbing on stepstools repeatedly with mildly arthritic hips to cover holes and graffiti on the walls with colorful, crafted anchor charts.
Sharon spent weeks curating and crafting a space in her classroom. She has never moved from this classroom in the twelve years I’ve worked with her and spends huge amounts of time, energy, creativity, and craftiness arranging the walls, materials, and engaging eye candy in her room. Not to mention the chicken in the terrarium. Oh, before you get your knickers in a knot, it’s not a living chicken. It’s an archeological demonstration.
That is until the Fire Marshall paid a visit: per code, 50% of the walls must be free of paper, etc. So she spent nine hours during our teacher directed day to take it all down.
Tearing down a creation is disheartening work. Exhausting and demoralizing. Discouraging and enraging. But she is not one to debate the Fire Marshall, so she complied.
Currently, I’m sharing my room with another teacher for two periods. It’s not “my room” though. It belongs to the school district. So my space, my things, my teaching tools must be reorganized. My beloved upper pillar that so proudly displayed my anchor charts now hosts an elementary-age alphabet chart, because that’s what her students need.
And evaluators have their preferences and biases to what should and shouldn’t be in a room. What might be a “word wealthy” or language-rich space to one teacher might be “controlled chaos” to an evaluator. Some teachers and evaluators abide a small amount of clutter, some do not. In order to share the space, I have been taking home stuff, (see about image) and trying to sort and de-clutter as much as possible. I have moved into our building, many times, at the huge expense of money, time, and physical labor. Just a few weeks ago I paid another colleague’s children $25 each to take things down to my car. Not going to lie: my hips can’t take it.
I’ve learned a few things from sharing the space, some selfish and some not. I’ve learned how much of an introvert I am: if there is no moment in the day where I can’t be alone I feel a great deal of anxiety. Considering I drive my son to the train every day, my husband is looking for a new job now, and I have no time during the day to myself, I am going to need to find some coping strategies. I’ve taken to wearing headphones and listening to music while I try to grade or plan. This gave me new-found sympathy for our students who listen to music in class—though the can’t multitask it saves them from the noise of classes. I’ve learned that I’m glad to be getting my ELL endorsement. I think I will do a great job given the chance.
The open-space concept is harmful to employees, and it distracts students, too. Right now I’m hanging out in a UW library, and most folks are in their own worlds. The occasional flirting conversation, sniffle or mumble distracts me a bit. Instead of flexible seating, we can provide students library-like spaces where they can sit and create, read, write, etc. without distractions? And consider ensuring teachers have spaces to call their own and cultivate a space where students feel welcome—I like to think I create a studio space. It may not be that now, but nothing is forever.
Those are wishes, though.
The most important thing I’ve learned stuff doesn’t really matter: I could teach in an empty room as long as I have big questions to ask and curiosity to share.