A friend of mine is a teacher and this last week, he picked up a new job in a new school. A new school means a new classroom, and since the school isn’t new itself, it meant there was another teacher coming out of that class. I helped him get him classroom ready.
Before I get started, let me say that teaching is a profession of preparation. There’s an astronomical amount of initial time spent getting prepared and the more you do it, the more effective you’ll be at teaching and maintaining your sanity in the classroom. You may spend two hours preparing a lesson that lasts only 45 minutes then spend two hours more grading your short lesson. At times, more time is spent getting ready to do the thing, than the actual thing is.
But before any of that lesson planning goes into effect, a teacher must get his or her environment ready. A teacher’s classroom says a lot about their teaching style, and it’s important to create a welcoming and effective environment. Teachers, especially new ones, will spend a full week’s worth of work just getting their classroom prepared. They have to organize its layout, create an aesthetic appeal, decide where to store things, while also thinking about how its layout will affect teaching. Will students be distracted if their tables face the windows/doors? Should the teacher’s desk be behind the students so they don’t know if that teacher is watching? Where should the classroom library be? How is it best organized for 4th graders? For 10th graders? Where should the teacher store their art supplies? Should there be an electric pencil sharpener? Or will that be a distraction? There’s a reason teachers don’t move rooms often: it too much work compounding to an already large workload.
There is always method to a teacher’s madness when it comes to a classroom. Everything has a specific place and purpose, and for the most part nothing in the class is in its spot just because. Good teachers think about how a classroom’s layout is most effective.
When we opened the door to his new classroom, the previous teacher had moved nothing. Or rather, it looked like it. When I scanned the walls, I was convinced she had simply grabbed her bag, locked the door and walked into retirement.
Apparently, the teacher left all of this stuff for my friend’s use. She left the planner from 2013, the fading Yoda poster, the basket full of nails, the torn up photocopied stories, the Guinness book of world records (2003), the five hammers, the goodwill lamp, the teddy bears, the broken chair and the cupboard full of expired sanitizer for my friend’s use.
Four of us spent three hours going through the classroom throwing garbage away. I tore paper off walls so severely sun bleached that they’d been turned from violet to white except where posters were hung where the paper still housed a vibrant full violet. I threw away headphones that looked like they belonged in the Apollo 11 control room. I tossed plant fertilizer that expired in 2000. I threw away 35 X-rays. I discarded a drawer full of dead highlighters, canned a bag full of old, cracking rubber bands, garbaged a jar full of bent paperclips. I discarded a book with lewd photos in it. I got rid of a calendar dating back to 2009. I threw away paper that had tags on the bottom that stated “Feed this end into the typewriter.”
The room was a complete shit show. A perfect demonstration of poor planning, poor management and poor teaching. She had filing cabinets filled with wicker apple-shaped baskets. A “Library” of books held together by duct tape.
“This is for you,” she told my friend. “You can have this library.”
Mismatched tables, mismatched bookshelves and mismatched art décor.
There’s a wall that had 3×5 post cards where students wrote what they liked about school. “This is for you, this wall was made by the kids and I want it to stay up. It’s thought provoking.”
“It’s fun.” Said one.
“It is fun.” Said another.
“I think it’s a lot of fun.” Said yet one more.
The only thought it provokes in me is a few choice words towards this “teacher.” She left her entire classroom up for my friend to clean up and then had the audacity to say she was being benevolent. A slap in the face is one thing, but to say “your welcome” is another altogether. If you’re going to leave a bunch of garbage for a new teacher to pick up, at least have the backbone to say “I’m leaving all of this obligation for you because I believe my time is more important than yours.”
What she did was rude. Beyond rude, what she did was childish, selfish and self-serving. She’s a blemish on the profession of teaching. What I saw when I entered that classroom was the workplace of someone unprofessional and ineffective. To call her a teacher would be giving her too much credit and offending those worthy of the title, “Educator.”
I’m glad she’s retiring. I’m glad she’s done and I hope she never steps foot in a classroom again because judging by her classroom; she was more than a detriment than a positive influence.
The kicker is when she met my friend about taking over her class she had some words for him:
“You’re going to be in over your head,” she tells my friend. “You have no idea what you’re in for.”
Her words were not of encouragement but meaningless verbal diarrhea.
A prison guard, sure. Astronaut, absolutely. Learning specialist? Please. How are those words going to do any good? The only purpose it served was to demonstrate her on failures as a teacher. She wants him to fail because she failed. Nothing would make her more happy than if she saw him go through the struggles because then at least she wouldn’t be a bad teacher and lonely.
It baffles me, that someone can do this to another person, especially to have one teacher do it to another. Teaching has an insane amount of prep work, starting with the teacher’s classroom. This friend of mine hasn’t even had the opportunity to start his classroom, because of the hours needed in order to organize and throw away all of the junk the last teacher left.
When I stood in that outdated room and looked upon all the garbage of everything that was left behind, it felt like I had gotten to know that teacher. I could feel the teacher’s presence, blending in with the useless things she used to construct her classroom.