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Teaching Without Your Own Room – We Should All Be So Lucky

June 9, 2011 by Josh Caldwell

I haven’t had a classroom of my own this year – I’ve been a vagrant, a wanderer, a man without a country – and I’ve grown to love it.

Mostly.

You see, I don’t just share a room – that would be far too easy, too mundane – I share four rooms for my four different preps. I was terrified when I first saw my schedule, wondering where will I keep my stuff? And how can I keep organized? And what if I’m late to class and my students have started a fire? And once the Lord of the Flies rioting subsides, where will I keep my charred stuff?

*deep breath*

Despite the initial fear and trepidation, I’ve adjusted. I’ve gone paperless (or as paperless as you can be in a 5:1 school). I’ve made a digital home for my students with Edmodo. I’ve even embraced the race between rooms during passing period as an opportunity to get out into the halls and interact with students. While, at times, I wish I had a singular place to stash my worldly goods, I’ve come to see physical classrooms as a teacher’s safe place, swaddled in years of accumulated etcetera and stuffed with personal artifacts, a safety net for the educational tight-rope walkers.

I’m walking without a net.

I’m taking a risk, every day.

I certainly don’t mean to suggest that having your own classroom (and enjoying all the associated benefits) means you aren’t taking risks and trying new things, simply that the comfort and safety of your own room can tempt a teacher with the familiarity of the known over the risk (and potential reward) of the unknown. Constantly changing rooms keeps me on my toes; it encourages me to try something new instead of digging up something I’ve done to death. Even better, I get a glimpse at what my colleagues are doing, and they get a chance to see what I’m working on.

A few weeks ago, as my 8th graders were working on an in-class essay, I took a minute to chat with the teacher whose room I was using. Her honors freshmen, it seems, had been slacking on their proofreading and were shocked when they didn’t meet standard on a recent essay. In a moment of impromptu collaboration, she asked if her students could correct my students’ essays. Brilliant! Her students get a chance to practice the proofing and correction skills they’re lacking, and my students get far more immediate feedback that I alone could have provided.

We should all be so lucky.

When my students got their papers back, they were at first incensed. Who were these freshmen to be grading them? How dare they grade so hard? What qualifies them to judge us? But as the fervor died down, my students came to realize that the comments they were getting came from students who were in their place only a year ago. The feedback they received was more real and meaningful to them than anything received from a teacher, which is why it stirred up such strong emotions. It was a powerful moment of realization and collaboration that would never have come if I were secluded in my own safe room.

We should all have the opportunity to teach in unfamiliar environments. We should all enjoy the serendipitous collaboration that comes from having another teacher in the room. We should all step out of our comfort zones a little more often. You don’t have to be a migratory teacher like me to do it; just make a concerted effort to get out and see other teachers teach, and ask them to do the same for you. Use technology to break down you classroom walls, not only for your students, but for yourself as well. My colleagues and I have gotten into the habit of joining each others’ classes on Edmodo, so we can virtually pop into the room and see what’s going on at any time!

I don’t yet know what next year will look like for me, but if I find myself in another migratory situation, I’ll be sure to cherish it as an advantage, and not a hindrance. If, however, I am given a room of my own, I hope that I don’t forget the value of impromptu collaboration. I hope that colleagues will feel free to come observe my teaching, and that I will be invited in to observe theirs. I hope that I don’t forget how valuable risks can be.

Thanks to my roommates Sue, Sara, Melissa, and Kristi for all of the sharing, stealing, laughing, groaning, inspiration, support, advice and commiseration. It’s been a great year.

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