Wednesday, February 07, 2007

My New Classroom

On Monday morning, UFT President Randi Weingarten came to visit our school. I’d have liked to see her, but I was out back teaching in a trailer. Ms. Weingarten, whose monopolistic Unity-New Action Caucus has not bothered to negotiate class size for almost 40 years, talked about class size and overcrowding. Others of us were experiencing it firsthand.

A colleague arrived unexpectedly to greet me.She notified me we were kicked out of the trailer, effective immediately, and sent my 27 students and me back into the building (She said she had 39 students, so protest seemed futile).

There are things I like to do when I teach. I like to walk around and check what kids are working on. I like to set the desks in a semicircle to encourage discussion and participation. On test days, I like to make three or four long rows to discourage cheating.

All these things are out of the question in our new classroom.There are 8 rows of 3 desks virtually piled on top of one another. Testing will be extremely challenging, if not impossible.

As an ESL teacher, I insist my student speak English at all times. That’s why I seat certain kids with others who don’t speak their languages.In this classroom, it’s virtually impossible to strategically place the kids, 55% of whom speak the same first language.

There are no windows in our new classroom. There are two doors, one of which connects to the office of the Assistant Principal of Security. We can hear every word he utters and every reply on his speakerphone. We can also hear every discussion he has with the students unfortunate enough to land in his office.

The other door leads to the hallway.You have to open the door, because the room smells like “cement,” “smoke,” “the locker room,” or “a pharmacy,” depending on which kid you ask. But you can’t open the door, because we’re across from the locker room, and the gym classes, which don’t seem to actually fit in our gyms, march down the hall for the first ten minutes of the period, and back up the hall for the last. Also, can hear everything going on in the dean’s office, just south of us, and you don’t really want it to spill into the classroom.

“What did we do?” a kid asked me.

“Is this a torture room?” asked another.

“No, it’s a punishment room,” replied someone with experience.

He was right. Our new classroom is exactly where they place kids with in-house suspensions. But there are usually only 5 or 6 of them at a time.

When you squeeze 4500 people into a building designed for 1800, you have to make a few compromises. I am not what you'd call shy, and I do not expect the administration to keep me there for long.

Still, some less assertive colleague will land in my stead for sure.

If you’re going to put “Children First,” as Bloomberg and Klein claim, there’s no excuse whatsoever for treating kids like this. Still, it will be my efforts, not Ms. Weingarten's, that get my kids out of there.

It's my job to look out for them, and neither they nor I can afford to wait another forty years.

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