If you are a teacher at an attractive school, and the local charters and other forms of school choice haven’t siphoned off a large chunk of your student body each year, your school is probably growing. In Arizona, and probably many places in the Southwest, we are used to growth in our communities and schools, though it doesn’t always happen. Growth, combined with stagnated and depleted educational funding, combine to create cramped quarters on campus. Administration and departmental leaders work hard to make sure that every student has a desk, and every teacher has a room.
However, there is often little choice but to share rooms, at least at the high school level where teachers have planning periods, and part-time instructors leave open classrooms for certain periods of the day.
This comes with savings in terms of buildings, but costs in terms of working conditions and time. Uncounted hours are spent shuffling teaching supplies, textbooks, classroom decor, furniture and technology. Most of this, I wager, is done off the clock over the summer. Then, during the school year, instead of connecting with students or monitoring the hallways during passing periods, running items to the copy room, or even using the restroom, the travelling teacher schleps her materials and herself back and forth, sometimes between buildings. I feel a sense of grief when I think about those classrooms plastered with photos of students and knick-knacky postcards and paraphernalia from the summer adventures of the teacher, signed posters from clubs and athletics teams sponsored and coached, student gifts, magnets, and random bumper stickers, those types of classrooms which are a dying breed in this environment. But perhaps this is just nostalgia.
However, despite the costs, perhaps there is a promise behind this sacrifice. I find that when I am sharing rooms or travelling, which I have had to do many a time over 19 years, I feel more connected with my colleagues. I have more adult conversations. I see more of what they teach, how they organize their classrooms and materials, how they greet students. This year at my school, by design many of the shared classrooms share a level in common– for instance my classroom is sophomores all day. 7 periods. There is a benefit to that. I see the vocabulary lists, the assignments, get a sense of the daily flow of a teacher who has been at this school much longer than I have. I see many possibilities developing.
Down the hall is the room where I will hold my reading strategies class each morning. We have organized it as a reading room, with posters designed to help inspire and reinforce basic skills, achievement charts, all our computers with headsets, a large table in the center for small group instruction, all the files that go along with our reading software, and fewer desks for the small classes that will be meeting there. My reading students will be scattered throughout my daily classes, but this is the nest where we will begin our day together. I look forward to them having that cozy home base.
Although I sometimes chafe against standardization pressing in on my instruction, and love my freedom as a teacher, I feel that sharing spaces helps support that elusive sense of shared purpose that schools are trying to create in their faculties and staff. Of course, I must admit I’m hesitant to write that, because I enjoy having my own little teacher-dom for all of my stuff. I would love to be in the same classroom for enough years to plaster the walls with photos and memorabilia and student projects. But that is not reality.
Many awkward compromises can come with unexpected benefits. Perhaps in certain settings it would actually be beneficial to consider shared spaces for specific academic needs, as we have for technology labs, libraries and sports. Perhaps middle and high school teachers need to loosen up their territorial boundaries a bit and see what lies beyond.