Learning Environments

No Room of One’s Own

Despite the challenges, there are some upsides for middle and high school teachers in changing rooms throughout the day.

A teacher using her laptop in a classroom. She's sitting in front of a blackboard and has a notebook next to her.
©Shutterstock/stockfour

At the end of the 2016–17 school year, my coworkers and I received notice that we would no longer have our own classrooms because we were moving our 7th- and 8th-grade students to our school’s other academic campus to join the 9th through 12th graders. We teachers would each have a small workspace in a faculty room, and classrooms throughout the building would be shared.

After 10 years of teaching, I was dumbstruck. How would I store projects, papers, books, and the endless supply of other stuff? In May 2017, as I started cleaning out my room, I had to ask myself which items were worth keeping and which should be donated, recycled, or thrown away. This was a worthwhile activity, as I finally got rid of things I hadn’t used in years.

Making It Work

Before pre-service week, I consulted with my future classroom mates on how we would handle sharing. One of the rooms I would share would be used only for Spanish classes, so decorating it was pretty straightforward, but the other I would share with an algebra teacher. I put up flags from Spanish-speaking countries and a few favorite posters, leaving space for math posters as well.

The start of the year was a little turbulent as teachers and students all changed rooms between classes. This was difficult for me because I like to greet my students at the door and have students working on their warm-up when the bell rings.

I overcame this obstacle by creating an incentive for my students to be ready to go even if I was running behind. My desks are arranged in groups of three, and if all students in a group are ready when the bell rings, I give the group a star. After 10 stars, students can get extra credit on quizzes, and the group with the most stars at the end of the marking period receives doughnuts. Surprisingly, this tactic worked—peer pressure helped my stragglers get to class early.

Moving between rooms prompted me to think about how I could teach my lessons in an engaging manner but with fewer handouts—I was consistently forgetting these in the faculty room. This led me to create a paperless (well, almost) classroom.

For warm-ups and formative check-ins over the course of the year, I used Socrative and Smart Lab, both of which students can access with their devices (often their smartphones). I got an immediate response, so I could see where students were in their learning and what areas I should focus on—a big improvement over worksheets.

For assessments, I used Microsoft Learning Suite, which my school had paid for. I found Microsoft Forms to be beneficial because assessments are easy to create—with options like multiple choice and short and long answer—and simple to send to students to take on their device, and the program grades assessments automatically. Students liked this format as well, as they were able to receive instant feedback. And since their tests and quizzes were in the cloud, students had quick access to all the materials they needed to study for unit assessments.

The biggest drawback to this was that students had an opportunity to cheat by looking up definitions and conjugations on the internet. To counter this, I had students put away their phones and take summative assessments on a tablet or laptop—I could better monitor these by walking around the room during assessments.

Losing my own room also prompted me to do something that I had often felt I had no time for—collaborate with fellow teachers across the curriculum. I share a faculty room with teachers of English, history, French, Latin, and Spanish, and we discuss students, curriculum, pedagogy, and more. I’ve begun to know my colleagues in a more meaningful way than just the typical hello in the hallways, and gained insights I never would have gotten had I stayed in my classroom.

The downside to not having my own classroom is that when I need to focus, the faculty room can be loud. I use earphones—even when I’m not listening to music—to signal to others that I’d rather not be disturbed.

I do worry that students won’t feel comfortable coming into a faculty room for help, so I meet them in other available spaces. This could sometimes mean a classroom that’s not in use, the library, or a quiet space in the hallway.

A Model for the Future?

Would I suggest that this model be used at other schools? Well, it depends. I feel that students in younger grades need a space they know, that they share with their teacher—a place where they can leave their belongings for the day. And elementary teachers tend to have a lot of hands-on learning activities, so they need storage space for their materials.

But older students are a different story. I feel that my students are more engaged and have taken more control of their learning now that they are getting instant feedback and taking advantage of technology in other ways. If they need me and can’t find me in a classroom, they know where to look in my workspace, or they send me an email.

Losing my classroom gave me the push to make fuller use of the technology we now have at our fingertips, so in my case it’s been beneficial.