It ain’t much but it’s mine

Dropped off my stuff in the new classroom today. I don’t love it, but it’ll do, especially if I come up with some ways to liven the space up a bit, and the fact that every single square inch of wall can have stuff attached to it is encouraging. I haven’t done any actual decorating– everything on the walls was there when I walked in today, including the (genuinely appreciated) welcome message on the bulletin board, but here’s what we’ve got:

The view from my desk. My biggest class is only twenty-four kids, which is spectacular, as I have way more desks than that, but they’re armchair style and they’re currently in rows. I’ll rearrange them eventually but for now that’s what we’ve got.

Major disadvantage #1: the classroom has no windows and therefore no natural light, which is going to murder me during the winter. I’m never going to see the fucking sun, and I predict I go out a lot for lunch, especially since my lunch and prep periods run together so I’ve got a longer contiguous break than usual.

The desk area itself. There’s a nice open space in front of it; I could put a group work table there or I could see if somebody has a couch or a chair they don’t want or something like that. There’s plenty of space in the room, especially with a max of 24 kids.

Problem the second: that teeny little whiteboard is all the space I have in the room, and I can apparently choose between using it as a whiteboard or using it to project on, but not both, which is … suboptimal. Now, on the plus side, I did ask the principal if it was possible to put whiteboards on the entire back wall of the room and she didn’t blink. I’m not getting it tomorrow or anything but it wasn’t immediately shot down, so hopefully I won’t have to deal with this for too much longer, as that’s an instructional handicap and not an environmental one. I can cope with no windows; I’ve had windowless classrooms before and there are ways to deal with them. No whiteboard space? That’s a genuine problem.

And then the final view of the room. There’s a doorway to the classroom next to me in the back there, which … okay, that’s fine, I guess. If I’m not getting new whiteboards right away I need to come up with something good for that back wall. We’ll see.

Classroom setup

Open House is tonight, and the room is ready, and I’m here for 11 hours today and my back hurts. Whee!

On educational equity and classroom decoration

I encountered an argument today that I thought was interesting and also kind of caught me by surprise, and I wanted to talk about it here both as a means of wrapping my head around it a little bit and to see if anyone else has any thoughts on it.

Every year I spend, conservatively, several hundred dollars on my classroom– either for basic supplies like pencils and paper, wall decorations that will probably last through the year, and on occasion more long-term, expensive items like my laser printer. Some years are more expensive than others, of course– any year where I change classrooms or subjects is gonna be bad– and even this year, when I’m not actually in the building yet, I still shelled out a chunk of change for items to improve the lighting in my office, a new mic stand, and a few similar things.

(I have a classroom wish list, which I’m pretty sure does not expose my real name; I link to it not because I want you to buy me things right now but so you can get an idea of what sorts of things I’m talking about.)

This teacher’s argument was that we should not be spending our own money on items for our classrooms. That, in and of itself, I’ve heard before and thought before, plenty of times, and the basic reasons for it are obvious. No other job, or at least none that I’m aware of, expects employees to pay for the basic services and tools necessary to do that job. My job is supposed to make me money, not cost me money, and blah blah whining about teacher pay.

No, her argument was different: that we should not be spending money on our own classrooms, because it creates an equity issue among the staff and among the students. So if Teacher A can afford whatever they want to put in their classroom and creates a magical learning wonderland by spending a bunch of money, and Teacher B is a new teacher who is struggling with student loans and isn’t getting paid jack, Teacher B’s students are going to get a lesser learning experience through no fault of Teacher B’s, when the fact is the state should be funding the rooms properly in the first place and making every classroom a magical learning wonderland. This is particularly an issue at the primary level, where there might be three fourth grade classrooms and the kids are with the same teacher all day.

And I’ll admit, part of me wants to dismiss this idea immediately and part of me thinks it has some merit. As a math teacher that every 8th grader in my building is going to see, it’s less of a concern for my situation, because all of them will be in my magical learning wonderland for a class period a day regardless of whether I spend a ton of money or not. But I can see this mattering at the elementary level. Then again, there is already going to be a certain level of educational inequality from classroom to classroom simply because of the composition of the classes and the skill and experience level of the teacher. We’ve all wanted to be (or have our kids) in a certain class with a certain teacher or h ad one who for whatever reason we’d rather avoid, and sometimes that’s the breaks.

This is, I think, less an argument against the actions of any one specific teacher and on stronger footing as an argument against the system itself. We all know the arguments about the ways we fund schools and what, as a society, we prioritize and what we don’t, and the simple fact of the matter is that the wealthy teachers shouldn’t need to use their money to spruce up their classrooms, particularly in a situation like we’re seeing now, where we see that some teachers are literally creating carrel desks out of plexiglass so that their rooms are safer from the plague. So we’ve got teacher income inequality leading to situations where, at least in theory, students are literally physically safer than in others.

That is bullshit, as I think we can all agree, and I’m not going to fall into the usual rant about how little America actually values education beyond paying barely-understood lip service. Throw a rock on this website; you’ll probably find one. But does the argument in general have merit?

Some, I think, but I still need to think about it more. What say you, commenters?

Postus interruptus

I have a good half-dozen posts rattling around in my head right now, none of which are really publishable at this exact moment for one reason or another. There are a couple of things I’d like to review; I’m not done with one of them yet and I’m going to wait a few days for another. I’m waiting to see about a couple of work-related things before I speculate much more online about how next year is going to go. I could find any of half-a-dozen different online bits of nonsense and get mad about that.

And it’s just, like, nah.

Here’s what I’ve got for right now: Not getting that job I wanted was a bit of a disappointing setback but for the most part everything has been going the way I want it to on the work front for the last few days; the school board and the superintendent both seem to be behaving and it seems like the teachers actually have some good advocacy there. We had a little bit of nonsense going about how they wanted all of the teachers to come into school and sit alone in our empty classrooms to do our e-learning, and that got quashed with a quickness, which was good– I’m not about to leave my damn office that I’ve set up exactly like I want it to go try and record videos on my little work laptop, and not having to have to fight with somebody about that is all good.

I continue to improve my little corner of the office, and I’m enjoying this far more than I ought to. Still need a little bit more lighting and maybe a new webcam, which since I’m not buying any classroom decoration stuff this year ought to be a reasonable expenditure. I am changing classrooms this year, and I went into school yesterday and basically packed up all of my stuff from last year’s classroom and stuck it in a corner in the new one. I’m not spending a single second longer than I have to in there; once/if school reopens I’ll have plenty of warning to get everything set up and right now I’m not wasting the effort.

The new room has what is effectively a walk-in closet in it; I had previously thought that it was some sort of common storage space and would be full of crumbling editions of abandoned textbook lines or something, so I was surprised to discover yesterday that it was completely empty. There’s not even any shelving in there– just an empty, carpeted, windowless, concrete-block rectangle, maybe 8′ x 15′ or so. I would be all over this little room if we were actually about to have a normal school year– I could make myself a separate office area that wasn’t part of my classroom if I wanted, or a quieter small group area– lamps! Beanbags!– or any of a dozen different things, and instead it’s just gonna be there, empty, because if we go back there’s not room for more than one person in there and I suspect I can’t literally isolate a child in this little room without getting in some trouble with somebody.

Ah well. We’ll see what happens when and if things ever get back to normal.

Some teachertalk

This has, with the exception of maybe twenty minutes at the end of one class yesterday, actually been a pretty good first week back at work. Two things have worked out in my favor: first, I rearranged all of the desks in my classroom on the teacher record day before leaving for Winter Break, and I like the new layout a lot more, and it’s also quite a bit more conducive to instruction than my previous layout was.

In addition, quite a few of my students were reshuffled, something I initially regarded with wary concern but which seems to have worked out quite a bit better than I had dared to hope. I have lost a number of knuckleheads, replaced them with a bunch of kids who seem at first look at least to be pretty nice, one kid who I was expecting to be a knucklehead seems more manageable than I had thought he would be, and a surprisingly large number of kids have, on their own, come up to me and commented about how they’re having an easier time paying attention and behaving in their new class than they were in their old one. It’s actually rather fascinating.

All except 7th hour. I’ve talked about them before, I’m sure, although I’m not going to go search for a post to link to– my 7th hour class is so much more poorly behaved than the rest of my classes that it almost feels like they’re from a different building than the rest of my groups. The weird thing was that I didn’t really have any specific kids I could blame it on– the group was toxic, not any individual students.

7th hour is 50% different kids from last semester, a number of the tougher kids are in new groups (and many are among the “I’m doing better!” crew) … and the vibe in the room is exactly the same, if not actually worse.

I cannot explain it. Now, I know that there are other teachers in the building who also think their 7th hour group is their toughest, so maybe there’s something about 3:00 in the afternoon that makes them all insane, but I am generally pretty good about group psychology sorts of things and this phenomenon has completely eluded me. It’s only day three, of course, so there’s plenty of time for things to change, for better or worse, but right now I’m stymied.