Lately, my Twitter feed and Facebook timelines have been filling with the ritual “Going in to set up my classroom,” “Did y’all know today is Teacher Appreciation Day at Staples?” and other such comments that show we teachers are hard at work preparing for the imminent arrival of our new students (bearing in mind some schools have already been in classes for some time). Of course, the ritual behind those postings dates back many hundreds if not thousands of years, before social media was even conceived of. By stretching your imagination, you can even picture early cave people checking the firewood or examining weapons as they prepared to teach their children the art of survival.
As the middle school has grown in numbers, it has outgrown its original space and expanded to include a classroom in the back of the library. Last year, Karen Suchenski used the room for Humanities 8, and worked diligently to fill it with furniture, artwork, decorations, and books all of which left the impression that it was less a classroom and more a room in someone’s home that had been devoted to comfort and learning. Indeed, Karen referred to the middle school as “a learning home” in a recent email to me.
This year, she and I are trading places, and as she works on moving her belongings upstairs and redoing the Jesser 3 classroom to support her work, I have been consumed with the need to remake the library classroom into the best possible learning space for my students. With the help and patience of Mark Pelis, our Head of Maintenance, out went every stick of furniture. Away with the SmartBoard on a cart. Bye bye, extra bulletin boards and ancient yellowing map of Africa. Hello, beanbag chairs, cubbies filled with scissors, markers, and all manner of supplies, and wall-mounted SmartBoard. Tod Pleasant, our Director of Technology, has been hard at work creating an access point so that the girls will continue to have 1:1 netbooks for use at a moment’s notice. I want my kids, when they first see the room, to shout with joy and run to plop themselves down in one of the beanbag chairs, artfully arranged in a circle with just enough space for me to sit on the floor among them, ready for the first Morning Reading of the year.
It occurs to me, though, that you can move out the physical trappings of a classroom, but you can not move out the love. Karen poured herself into her work, into understanding and supporting and challenging last year’s eighth graders, and in that peculiar way that rooms seem to have memories, you can still sense her presence as well as that of other caring teachers who preceded her in the room. It is my fervent hope and expectation that by the end of the year, the room will have added another layer of love and care and excitement and (sometimes painful, sometimes joyful, but always present) growth.
Meanwhile, the room sits ready. And so do I.
– Bill Ivey, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School Dean