The teachers’ summer slide (and no, it’s not a water slide)

As summer vacation really begins to sink in, I found myself thinking about teachers, and what we’re REALLY good at. I came up with a bit of a list:

  1. Holding it. For terrific lengths of time. Ask any teacher when his or her breaks are, and they’re able to tell you instantly. Why? Because we’ve conditioned ourselves to be – ahem – “ready” at those specific times. One of the best things about summer break? Not needing to worry about that particular aspect of our jobs!
  2. Letting you know – gently – that your child is a talker. Or disruptive. Or not a great friend. Or not on top of the stack academically. We’re great at breaking news gently while maintaining your vision of your (really? not even close to perfect!) child.
  3. Splitting kids into groups. Whether we use sticks, cards, an app, or just looking at a class list, we get the job done. Fast.
  4. Thinking ahead to the next lesson/day/week/month/year.

This is truly the point of this post, the thinking ahead part. We tend to dwell on past failures instead of successes, but that just makes what we think of next even more brilliant!

I’m working on my classroom layout for next year. I’m pretty picky about where things go, and I’m kind of a nerd when it comes to this particular aspect of planning. I started making scale maps of my classroom (with grid paper; 1cm:1ft) in my 3rd or 4th year of teaching, mostly because I couldn’t draw a desk to scale by hand. I’d make this beautiful arrangement, get in my room, and not be able to make everything fit. After pushing, shoving, swearing, and sweating, I’d figure out a way to make things work, but be disappointed. Hence, the maps. I’m made fun of by many in my school, but it works for me because I’m not quite as spatial as other folks. And, despite my generally good physical fitness, I’ll not be dragging around my 30 pound tables more than I need to, thanks. IMG_3828

As I looked at my arrangement from last year and how my students used it, I found myself thinking about the use of the space. I feel like there’s so much of the room I’m not using, and need to make a better plan for the coming year. I had hidey holes. Bad. I had no table to work with small groups. Bad. I managed to trim down my belongings for my personal space, but still didn’t use everything I left there. Bad.

My first impulse is always to bring more stuff IN – shelves, benches, tables, floor pillows! – and not take it OUT. Bad again! Instead, I’m trying to figure out what I want my students to do in the coming year, and help design a space that allows for them to work productively. I want my room to be a place of ideas and innovation, not just rote learning. I want kids empowered, not just engaged. I also want to have a skeleton of what it could be, and to have my students help me make some of the decisions. Which leads me to #5:

5. We’re very good at telling people what to do. I say that to my bossy students (“You want to tell other people what to do? Be a teacher!”), but is me telling kids what to do the best way to approach everything? Of course not. So. Flexible seating? Doing it already. Bulletin boards? Reorganizing for better flow and function. Figuring out the best place for the tables and random desks in the room? Maybe the students have better ideas than I do. I’ll never know unless I try it.

As for the innovation aspect of this, I see possibilities everywhere. Kids helping set up the room (not just the classroom library, which, in my experience, is a hit-or-miss proposition) could lead to more collaboration, which could lead to innovation. It will certainly help me understand what they think is most important. We may find problems as we progress, and we’ll need to find solutions for those. The real world implications are many. Current room, future apartment, lifelong career… Knowing what you want out of your space is a key in many aspects of life.

Now I’m thinking PBL for this. I’ll think of a driving question and plan the schedule!

But next week. After all, it’s still summer.