Monday, September 29, 2014

New Experiences, New Lessons

I remember walking down the hall to my first classroom as a teacher. Based on some of the research I did on the school, I knew which classroom I would be receiving, but the principal walked past it. There was also another opening that was next to the office. "Please don't give me the room next to the office," I thought to myself. "Oops, we went too far," she said. I was about ready to start celebrating until she unlocked my room. "Here's your new room. Aren't you excited?!"

To be honest, looking at the room, I was far from excited. Desks were piled in a heap in the center of the room. There was stuff on the counters that belonged to multiple teachers that may never be claimed or used. Then there was the shape of the room. I was accustomed to rooms that had four walls and tended to be some sort of quadrilateral. This room, however, had five walls, none of which were the same size. A decent size island in the "kitchen" (sink area) served as a base for a massive CRT television and home to a laser-disc player.

Although I was a bit disappointed by the shape, a small and silly thing to be bothered by, I did have a feeling of excitement. I didn't know how everything would work out, but I knew that there would be adventures to be had, lessons to be learned, and a year full of new experiences.

Throughout those first two weeks, before most teachers had even started setting up their rooms, I rearranged the desks at least two to three times a day. It was impossible to get them to fit correctly, unless I put them in rows, which I was not about to do. So I talked with my principal and received permission to do away with the teacher's desk and television. Now there would be more room for learning.

But things still weren't right. I had trouble walking around and would be challenged to reach every student. Imagine students trying to sit in chairs at their desks; they would be nearly on top of each other and unable to move around without hitting. This wouldn't do. So back to my principal I went.

Talking with her, I was able to express some of my concerns and we arrived at an idea. I would start switching the desks out of my room for round tables. These would allow more people to sit in a smaller area and work in groups, but paradoxically have more space. So as the year started, I began moving desks out and tables in.

Some of the students loved the tables. They quickly saw advantages of them and enjoyed the new adventure. However, some students missed their desks. They wanted a space that was immediately defined as their own, with all of their belongings right there with them, and what they had known in the past. To top this off, I wasn't able to obtain as many tables as I had needed for everyone to sit at, so some students were at desks and others at tables.

This forced me to learn new behavior management strategies as the students were constantly right next to each other, looking at each other. At times, it was a challenge, but I learned a lot because of it. However, because of the lessons I learned last year, starting this year with all tables and no desks went significantly smoother.

There were a few parents last year, and a few this year, who were uneasy about the tables. After some experience with them, they eased in to them and saw many of the benefits.

This past week, I started giving a few students stability balls to replace their chairs. A few students seem apathetic about them, but overall the class, and a number of parents, are excited to have them.

I was talking with one of our custodians the other day and he made the comment that my room kept changing. Thinking about it, I had to respond to him that my room should look different every year.

As teachers, we have very different groups of students coming into our rooms each year, sometimes each period. Additionally, the world around us is constantly changing and traditional paradigms of education may not be as efficient. We need to constantly be trying new things, having new experiences, and learning from those to make our classrooms an effective environment for learning. I am fortunate in that my principal allows, and encourages, me to try new things, make mistakes, and learn from them. Isn't that the sort of modeling that the students benefit from? When I show them that it is alright to take a chance, fail, and recover from it, they learn that process and can begin to reciprocate it in their own lives.

What have you been wanting to try? What is holding you back?

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