Friday, June 1, 2018

Space

By the end of the day, I will not have a classroom.

I have one more duty to complete (I'm basically the stage manager of graduation on Sunday), but today is the last regular school day of my career. I'll scrub my classroom of every last trace of me, then hand over the keys and go home.

Of all the retirement moments that I've had to wrap my head around, this is turning out to be one of the tougher ones. Because I'll no longer a classroom, a teacher space of my own.

We probably should talk about space more often in education, because if there's one thing nobody in a school has, it's personal space. Teachers talk about closing the door and doing their jobs, as if that would somehow create a private space, but when a teacher closes the door, she's shut herself in the room with a whole batch of students.

Personal space, often defined by walls or even partitions, is a major status marker in most workplaces. It just doesn't come up often in education because almost nobody has any. Administrators get offices. Guidance counselors and other staff that require privacy for the students they work with get offices. Teachers get a desk. In a classroom, that they share with students. When teachers are forced to carry their stuff from room to room on a cart, that marks them clearly as the bottom of the food chain.

I've often argued, only half-jokingly, that districts could get away with lower pay for teachers if they gave each teacher an office-- even a cubicle-defined space.

Our lack of private and personal space is partly about being accessible to our students. Teachers aren't supposed to be able to say to students, literally or figuratively, "Go away. I'm not available to talk to you right now."

But it's also one more not-very-subtle way that teachers are de-adulated, treated like children, and put in a less-than power position in schools. It's one more signal-- "You are not in control and you don't have the real power here." Teachers try to fight back by bringing in objects, putting up decorations, even window treatments, to mark our territory as our own. But the smartest teacher knows better than to put something she really values in her classroom where it's vulnerable to any errant student or to any of the many, many people who have ready access to the room. Our district once employed a principal who, after teachers had left for the day, enter their rooms and check through the contents of their desks. She wasn't trying to catch anybody misbehaving-- she just wanted them to remember that there was not one inch of space in the room that they could call their own. In some districts, teachers will not be able to work in their rooms over the summer because they won't be allowed to keep their keys-- another way that districts hammer home that teachers are just guests in the building, but the space is not theirs.

It is one of the things that separates teachers from other professionals. Doctors have offices. Lawyers have offices. Teachers do not.

And yet we get attached to the little space we're given, enough that I actually feel a pang that I will no longer have a designated personal space in this building. Time to move "create a home office" up the retirement to-do list.

4 comments:

  1. You will be having so much fun with your boys that you won't need that "office space" to make you feel good. Your children will keep you so busy exploring that you won't miss teaching one little bit. You will become the teacher of your own children. I don't regret one bit being a stay at home mom and I think you will be very happy as a "Mr. Mom".

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  2. There are so many mixed emotions tied into retirement. I was so glad to retire...and I regretted my decision both at the same time. So, I spent 7 years after retirement working as a volunteer in a local school (and btw, was given a "space" of my own in a closet near the library).

    Even now, this June marking my eighth year of retirement, I miss the teacher/student relationships, the challenge of problem solving student struggles, and the collegiality with other teachers. On the other hand, I've been working hard to support public schools in our area and state...hopefully helping the vast majority of our kids in the process.

    Retirement is a difficult decision to make when you love what you do.

    In any case, congratulations...and enjoy your new "home office" space!

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  3. Careful what you wish for! Once my school was visited by consultants whose game was to reconfigure the school for maximum utilization. Each teacher would get a slice of a communal office space - but no classroom to call their own. So, we could all become nomadic teachers on carts.
    Happily, that useless notion disappeared because it cost too much moola.

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  4. This is all so true! It is demeaning not to have a "space", but in some districts even desks have been taken away and I don't understand. Even after I have read all of the articles you have written and thousands of others about teachers and education, I still don't understand the deliberate and not so deliberate disrespect of teachers. There is some perceived idea that we don't even deserve basics, such as a working restroom with toliet paper, hot water, soap, and paper towels. Then, to ask for such items is view as complaining!

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