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.

Final classroom update

… seeing as how school starts tomorrow, for shit’s sake:

The room is basically done, at least on the decor front; there will probably be some more math-related stuff scattered about as the year goes on but what I’ve got is more than enough to get started with. I got the round table I wanted and brought in a single carrel desk, so I feel like the kids have plenty of options for where to sit. We’ll see how it goes; first teacher day is tomorrow and first day with the kids is Thursday. I plan on spending the first two days at least on procedures and getting-to-know-you stuff so no need to worry too much about lesson planning yet.

In other news, this is happening, and are you as excited as I am? Or as excited as I would be, if all of my available emotional energy wasn’t being sidetracked into other things right now? Because I totally feel like if I had any spoons left I’d be burning them on being super excited about this:

In which a minor thing goes right

You may recall I’m working on getting a classroom set up, what with how I haven’t shut up about it for days. What I haven’t mentioned is that I’ve had a couple of Indiana University flags hanging up in virtually every classroom I’ve ever had that had the wall space for them, and I have been tearing the house apart over the last several days trying to figure out where the hell I put them after I closed down my last classroom. There was no way I would ever have thrown them away, and I realized this afternoon that there were certain other objects missing as well– most notably, my collection of Hulk toys, mostly gifts from students– that I similarly would never have gotten rid of.

They had to be in the basement. They had to be. There were other boxes of school shit down there; why wouldn’t the flags be down there somewhere? But both my wife and I had already gone through the basement. Independently. And found nothing.

Our basement is a fucking mess, y’all.

Now, in this picture, you need to ignore the fact that one of the flags in question is on top of the pile, but note that that cardboard box is open. And the reason the flag is on top of the pile of stuff there but with nothing underneath it dislodged is that the motherfucking thing was in plain goddamn sight the entire time, on top of everything in that cardboard box. And yet, somehow, two adults who were looking for red flags didn’t see it.

Trash bags full of undonated baby clothes removed, we see … part of a roll of paper towels, for some reason, part of a car seat, and … wait, what’s that?

If anyone has advice on how to get wrinkles out of a polyester flag, they’d be appreciated. And look! Underneath the flag!

My Hulk toys. My Hulk mugs. My binary clock. My Easy Button. My Skull of An Unnamed Former Student. All the shit that I knew goddamn well I didn’t throw away.

For once, something– a minor something, mind you, but something— has gone right.