#Kinderblog2012 Summer Blogging Challenge, Question Numero Deux:
Tell us about one (or two, or a few) of the classrooms you have had over the years. Not the kids, the ROOMS. What have you loved? What have you hated? How did you FEEL in the space? What did you DO with the space that, looking back, seems ridiculous? Or brilliant? We all spend so much time in our classrooms, we really do develop a relationship with the physical space. Tell us about that (those) relationship(s).
I know, I’m a little behind on this. What can I say – it’s summer and it’s hard to keep up with RUNNING the challenge AND participating in the challenge AND holding down the lounge chair on my patio with an iced coffee in my hand. Hopefully my story here is worth the wait.
When I finished grad school, my first teaching job was at a teeny weeny private school (known here as That School, not to be confused with This School, where I currently work), in a little town just south of The City. The town was small (24,000 people), the school was small (180 kids, in grades K-12), and the classes were small (maximum 12 kids per class, often fewer). The assignment was to teach a grade one/two split class, and while I know there is all kinds of debate on the merits and pitfalls of split classes, I will just say this: when you only have 10 kids in your class, you can manage damn near anything.
It was the first time that I set up MY OWN classroom – previously, “my” rooms had been already set up, by the program or facility where I was working. They were lovely, friendly, well-equipped and welcoming rooms, but I never felt ownership. About a week before school started, I arrived to check out my space, not even really sure what was involved in “setting up a classroom.”
It. Was. Little. LORD, was that classroom little. I am very bad at square footage, but: I currently live in a 700 square foot condo, with a big kitchen and one generously sized bedroom; that classroom was about the size of my current living room. Imagine the smallest space necessary to accommodate 12 children and one teacher. Now cut off about 10 square feet. It was THAT little. It was in a funny place: right at the top of a stairway, with the door in a weird little nook that housed the doorway to the staff bathroom as well as the (only available) storage for my teaching materials. It was a funny shape: sort of a rectangle, with a bite out of it where the door was. There were 4 low, rectangle tables, and a teacher desk and chair. There were no hooks for the children’s coats and bags, only a handmade bank of 12×12 cubbies (1 per child), where they had to store backpacks, lunches, gym shoes, and outdoor clothing. There was no counter, no sink, no cabinets or cupboards or even shelving. I later wrangled 2 more trapezoid tables out of other classrooms, and dug 2 small bookcases out of my personal storage container (which was, conveniently enough, right next door to school). But adding more furniture meant subtracting square footage, and, well…. even 6 year-olds need room to WALK between the tables.
Setting up the room was like a a 3-D jigsaw puzzle. How to make enough room for me, the kids, their belongings, their learning? Everything had to be placed with exactly enough space to function, and not an inch more. I figured out precisely how much clearance I needed to be able to sit in my desk chair, and set my desk EXACTLY that far from the wall. The cubbies started EXACTLY where the edge of the door ended. The children HAD to sit or stand with their chairs pushed in because otherwise there was nowhere to walk. The calendar corner was the story corner was the play area was the group work area. We finished all of our art projects on the same day we started because there was NOWHERE TO PUT THEM other than on the wall. Everything we did had to be cleaned up completely before starting the next thing. I was offered a desktop computer for the room, and I declined – space was more precious than technology.
The space affected my pedagogy, to an extent I only realize in retrospect. I couldn’t greet the children at the classroom door in the morning because THERE WAS NO ROOM AT THE DOOR IN THE MORNING. I greeted them each, by name, from my desk. The children HAD to do most of their work at their tables, because there just wasn’t room anywhere else for them to go. I taught from my desk — instead of walking around — a lot, because (say it with me, now) there wasn’t really room to walk around.
And yet… I loved that little room. The only window faced straight east, across rolling green foothills, and I watched the sunrise nearly every day — on my own in the fall and spring, and with the children in the dark days of winter. We called the table in front of that window “The Imagination Station,” and the kids could sit there to draw or read or write or dream when they were done their work. I hung ribbons around the window, and clothes-pinned their artwork to the ribbon. Our story rug was actually an lap-blanket that my grandma had crocheted, just big enough for 10 little bottoms. I kept an electric kettle on my desk, and as the kids wrote in their journals first thing every day, the kettle would whistle softly, while my iPod played Beethoven and the sun rose outside. It sounds idyllic. It was.
The next year, I moved to a (relatively) bigger classroom at That School, and after that, to an (objectively) big room at This School. My room now has a wall of windows, miles of counter space, acres of cabinets, a separate coatroom, a sink and fridge and microwave, room for kids to move and play and have 25 projects on the go at once. Make no mistake: I do love it, and I appreciate every last square inch of it.
But there was something about that little room (which I later learned was originally intended to be a large office for the Head of School) that keeps hold of my heart. We were cozy in there. We were together. We were safe. We were learning and laughing and holding hands. We were (perhaps more than in any other classroom I have had) a “WE.”
*Oh, and the slates? Dollar store treasures! It was a tradition at that school to give the kids a small first-day-of-school gift from their teacher. I used the slates to identify their spots, and the kids took them home at the end of the first week — because, of course, there was really no place to store them.