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).
In my 26 years of teaching I have only had 4 classrooms. My first two years were spent at the grade 7-12 building of our school, teaching a middle years alternate class in a small room with navy walls. I had over 30 students jammed into a small space, seated at folding tables and with very little storage. Their were some cupboards at the back of the room. I removed the doors to make open shelving. I also requested shelving to be built under the window, but that has never happened.
When I moved to the pre-k to grade 6 building to teach kindergarten, I received quite a shock. A lot of the wonderful things in “my” classroom belonged to the teacher who was leaving and she had taken them with her. I began exploring the school. I found a workbench and three sand/water tables down in the grade 4/5 classrooms, being used for teacher storage. I hauled them up to my classroom. I also found paint easels and set them up in my room. Then I went to see the vice principal and told him I needed stuff and asked if there was any money available. The previous teacher had spent the year’s budget on one Little Tikes car. Not what I would have chosen. He said there was some money, but didn’t give me a dollar figure. He told me to make a list and prioritize it. I did. The number one priority on the list was unit blocks, but they are very expensive. He called me into the office to ask if there was anyway that I could connect the unit blocks to language and literacy development. Easy peasy for an early childhood educator. So he bought me unit blocks with some library $. The day that the blocks arrived he delivered them to my classroom while we were seated doing the calendar. We opened up the box right away, and the vice principal stayed to watch. As the box was opened, one little boy excitedly exclaimed, “holy shit!” The vice principal replied with a smile, “I guess he likes the blocks”.
At the end of that year, we had a problem at school. Increasing enrollment meant that we needed another kindergarten class and there were no empty classrooms. A colleague and I talked about team teaching in a large area at the end of the hallway. This area had been designed around a central almost circular space with smaller rooms around it. Most of it was not being used except for storage and nesting areas for mice. We wrote up a proposal to team teach in this area, two teachers, two classes and one awesome space! I taught in that room for twenty years, sometimes in a team teaching set up, sometimes as a single class with tutor/teaching assistant support, and one year mainly on my own. I loved that room. It had spaces of different sizes. The janitors painted circles on the floor in the central area. There was a separate room for paint, water and sand. There was a separate room for the house/hospital, vet clinic/post office. There was a room with tables for writing and other table activities, a boot room, a real kitchen (which eventually had a dishwasher that I fundraised to purchase), two bathrooms, a room for small group instruction and an office. It was heavenly. There were also skylights in the central area. After several years in the room I even managed to convince the powers that be to paint the ceiling pink. It was beautiful and very cozy.
Students sitting in the central area listening to guest musician Don Freed.
Students making gingerbread houses in the table room. It had three of these double trapezoid set ups, later replaced with three horseshoe tables.
The dramatic play room, set up as a house.
The small group instruction room. The window is only boarded up because the picture was taken during summer holidays, when the windows are boarded to keep out the heat and prevent vandalism.
Making pumpkin soup in the kitchen. Making pumpkin soup is a Halloween tradition in my class. That way the kids have something healthy in their tummies before they go trick or treating, and I don’t have to have a Halloween party. We still dress up and participate in the school wide costume parade in the gym.
The skylights and pink ceiling and our head janitor, Hank.
The water, sand, paint, workbench room.
As you can see by the pictures, it was a wonderful classroom. There were windows into all the small rooms except the dramatic play area. We also had all the doors to the small rooms removed. Each year I and any others working with me, made changes to the room. It was always a fun place to teach. When I was told I would have to move out of that room, into a “box”, I cried and cried. I was able to have the dishwasher moved with me and to have a fridge and stove installed in my box, but it was still a box.
Grumpy as I was about the move, I tried to make the best of it. I was told that I MUST have a carpet. My first team teaching partner and I requested to have the carpet removed from the previous classroom, and started the school wide move to get rid of germ trapping carpets. I chose a semi circular alphabet carpet with lower case letters (not easy to find). I was also told that I could order new tables, so I did. I ordered six small rectangular tables and two small horseshoe tables. I only received one of each. Luckily I had a class set of clipboards and a class set of trays. The rectangular table became the snack center and the horseshoe table was used for small group work. Everything else was done on the floor!
I have completed three years in the boxy room. It does have a bathroom, dishwasher, sink, stove and fridge, and an exit/bootroom shared with only one other class. In the three years it has been a straight kindergarten class, straight grade one class and a k/one split class. It will be a split class again next year.
Back half of the room, as a straight kindergarten class.
Front corner with book racks and science table.
Half the class working with pattern blocks at the rug while I am doing art with the other half. (I was alone with 25 kinders at a time for most of the year)
The other half of the class, on the bare floor with trays while I am teaching them a basic cut & glue learn the procedures start of the year activity.
Cleaning blueberries at the small group table.
Eating Thanksgiving dinner on the rug. Yes, we did get gravy on the rug.
Making pancakes at the front of the classroom. Not as convenient for cooking as the lovely kitchen in my old room, but I refused to let the room change destroy the learning.
The year that I had a straight grade one class I was able to get rid of the rug by giving it to the kindergarten teacher. Whooo hooo! However I had to exchange it and my two nice tables for a bunch of desks. I arranged them in parliamentary style rows because I am a firm believer in children having a direct view rather than having to turn their heads. That said, I did not stand at the front of the class all day and the children did not stay in their desks all day.
Working at their desks recording observations about their apples.
An elder telling stories and showing pictures of our community’s past.
Students helping themselves to bannock and jam after the storytelling.
Stuffing our Christmas turkey.
Math on the floor.
This past year I had a split k/one class. The ones had desks at the front of the room and the kinders had two horseshoe tables at the back. We did things as a whole class, as two classes, in small groups and in centers.
I’m glad we didn’t have to eat these sticky caramel apples on that rug!
Even though we have table/desk space for everyone, the floor is often the preferred place to work.
The smartboard is a perk due to having the k/1 split. Kindergarten and pre-k do not have smartboards yet. Ours was only hooked up late this year, so I haven’t utilized it to its full potential. The kids loved having the full of beans wiki on it so that they could help each other with writing.
The other day I went into my room and saw that the janitors had finished waxing the floors. I really wanted to start moving shelves and setting things up. Of course, that is unrealistic right now since I have a new knee and it has not healed fully. Despite the room and grade changes, I have learned that what really matters is the students and making sure that they have good learning experiences. How we, as teachers, arrange the learning space has a great impact on our students and we need to be creative in order to make whatever space we have work to our advantage, and most importantly, to our students’ advantage.