Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I teach in a Labyrinth.

My school was built in the mid-70’s, designed for the “open classroom” model.  That means the classroom area was basically one huge room and each classroom was a sectioned off area of the whole.  The one time I substituted in an Elementary open classroom, the areas were separated by bookcases, movable chalkboards and other furniture.  You could hear things from every classroom in the school, kids could see between these partitions into the next classroom and were constantly distracted.  Whatever educator thought this was a good idea should be tazered.  Fortunately someone figured out and by the time I student taught there back in ‘93 the building had been fitted with those really cheap sorta-walls and at least the rooms were visually private (and sounds were muffled).

The problem with that is when you try to turn one big square into 30 classrooms and a library, you get a mess.  Halls that give 7th graders nightmares and 9th graders joke material.  A ventilation system that, well, doesn’t ventilate half the rooms and poorly ventilates the other half.  AND 3/4 of the classroom have no windows whatsoever. Which brings me to the point of this post.

Halfway through 2nd lunch the power went out in the whole neighborhood.  Just imagine the fun of being in a 30 x 30 room with 36+ fourteen year-olds, in total, complete darkness.  Yeah, fun, like hemorrhoids.  Fortunately for me, it was my prep period, and when they decided that classes were going to stay where they were, and that the kids at lunch would head back to 3B when it was over, all I had to do was wander the halls herding kids into the appropriate class and do bathroom checks (“Hey, are you guys in here peeing, or destroying things?”).  Not great, but better than trying to keep them in control in dark, humid and hot rooms.

I did, of course, stumble through my lightless room, feel around for my camera bag and go back out and get some pictures.  Which are here:

This last picture was kind of fun.  I had taken a shot of this classroom and because I had to leave the shutter open for 2 or 3 seconds, all the students were blurry.  So I explained to them what I was doing and told them they would need sit perfectly still while the camera took the picture.  As you can see, the majority of the were cooperative, but at least the uncooperative ones give you an idea of how long the shutter was open.

So I took the picture and of course they all wanted to see it.  As I was walking around the room showing the picture to them I asked the class if they knew why people never smiled in really old pictures.  I told them that it was because back then people had to stand still, like they did for me, for so long that it was impossible to keep a smile the whole time.  They were shocked when I pointed out that they had held still for at most 3 seconds, and those people had to stand still for up to 5 minutes.

It was yet another great moment for me in teaching.  No light, no ventilation, humid, hot, their regular teacher out in the hall cooling off, and they were actually paying attention to me.

This has been a good year, even if it goes sour, it’s still been better than last year.


A Paperback Writer said...

It's not a labyrinth; those go somewhere. It's a rabbit warren.

My sympathies on your day.

I keep a small flashlight in my bag for times such as these.

Oh, and today my 5th period took 45 minutes to grasp a 10 minute concept. I have 37 kids who just didn't want to think about concluding sentences for long enough to "get" them. I ended up doing about 5 different methods to teach the same concept, finally telling them, "Guys, you are dragging this out to the point where I'M getting bored!"
Years ago, I would've assumed I was doing something wrong. Now I know better; they were just digging in their fat little heels and refusing to make anything work today.
Y'know, I think I would've preferred a power outage. :)

Oh wait! Why, oh why couldn't we have had a power outage this evening that would've forced the cancellation of PT conferences???!!!

Mustang Sally said...

I don't know about from the teaching end, but from the learning end I've always found that the best learning moments were rarely those that were planned in advance but rather those that responded to life as we live it.

Max said...

Writer: Our half-time share-him-between-two-schools intern said the same thing tonight. He wasn't here yesterday and he comes up to me and asks why I had the power pole knocked down 3 hours too early.
We are supposed to have a big flashlight in every room, but since you can't leave it out where it's easy to get at, it's always fun finding it in total darkness.
Sally - I agree. Some of the best teaching times I've had were those spontaneous moments when it just happens out of nowhere.

Jeff said...

I completely agree with Sally. And man, I have to say that you have way too many kids crammed into that classroom. My sympathies.

Max said...

Jeff- that's the beauty of teaching in Utah. It's not as bad in the elementary schools, but in secondary schools my classes of 32 are small. Last year I averaged 40. And P.E. classes, well, 60 is not unheard of.
Utah - Stack 'em deep and teach 'em cheap.

Jannx said...

Interesting post. Like Paperback, I also carry around a small flashlight (on my keychain). Although, it is time for me to replace the batteries. In an emergency, I'm lucky that I have several flashlights in the students' science kit. Unfortunately, being the scatter-brain that I can be, I would probably forget about the flashlights....that is until the lights came back on.

I have to agree with Jeff, that is a lot of students in a room.

Interesting photos. Am I the only one who had images of high school slasher films in my head?

Wow Paperback, I'm impressed with you being able to alter your teaching approach 5 different ways to try reaching your students. Very impressive. I won't embarass myself with what I do.