In my first year of teaching I was responsible for teaching Japanese to 13 classes of year 6 and 7 students, a total of 26 45 minute lessons. And every 45 minutes, I walked from one classroom to another, sometimes at the other end of the school, to deliver my lessons.
Stepping into each classroom I had to consider the personality and teaching style of the classroom teacher (this class aren’t allowed to say boo, and so don’t handle autonomous speaking activities well), as well as the configuration of the room (this class is set up in rows while this one is in groups). I kindly asked teachers to leave blackboard space for me, and this was sometimes forthcoming. I created posters and gave information to teachers and some kindly hung them up with care, even adding a special banner and decorations, while others gathered dust in a pile at the back of the room. If I left a class a few moments early, or arrived a few moments late, I might get a snide comment or rude look from the teacher who had lost a few seconds of their precious Non-Contact Time (which I didn’t have until Friday afternoon). Needless to say, there were times when I was literally running from class to class.
New to the game, I did as I was told and actually felt lucky to have a job based at a single school, as many of my colleagues were teaching in 2 or more schools. Nevertheless, I knew it wasn’t an ideal arrangement especially as there were unused demountable classrooms going to waste. I asked my deputy principal outright if I could have a room and was told no, because of issues with behaviour management. I’d been at the school for a term, and although I wasn’t an expert in class management, there were no huge issues, and on further enquiry I was told it wasn’t a problem with my management skills, but a previous teacher.
So I set out to get my own room in a year. It took 2.
First, I made sure I had open communication with classroom teachers and did everything to align myself with their management style, even if it conflicted with my own. This ensured the teachers were on my side.
I made sure I used a range of different resources every lesson. It was great because it did help me create more varied and interesting lessons. But my real aim was to be seen struggling with all the resources that are vital for teaching a Language. If I knew one of the admin team were going to be in a classroom, I took a detour to walk past and a timely dropped poster would ensure they saw me hurrying and struggling.
I joined the literacy team. I got a few strange looks on the first day, but I am a literacy teacher. I believe what I do in the classroom helps consoldiate students’ knowledge of their first language, and I made sure all of my programs used some of the same techniques and ‘buzz words’ that were being used in mainstream classrooms.
I did everything I could to get the subject ‘out there’ (and that’s a subject for another post).
At the end of the year I forwarded a letter to the principal and requested a meeting a few days later to discuss. From memory the letter included
*What I had been doing in and out of the classroom to build the Japanese program
*An explanation of the resources I use (and those left unused)
*A list of possible issues with having my own room and responses and solutions to each
*A list of benefits to having my own room
*A proposal for which room I could use
The meeting went well but in the end I was given a compromise – I could use the room but only for special events.
It was then that I realised I would not succeed in Languages being reserved, which is difficult as I am naturally a shy person. Being a Languages teacher requires a little subversion. And so every speaking assessment piece we did I made an event out of, sending out invitations to parents and creating banners – I even called in the local newspaper. An every day role play activity became an event. A practical cultural activity became an event. And so slowly we made the transition to the new room, without the students jumping out windows or my having to scream the school down, and so I requested again for the move to be a permanent one.
I was given the okay, but under the condition that I would go to the students’ classroom to collect them, line them up, walk them over, and do the same at the end of the lesson. I still don’t understand the rationale for this but I was tired of the fight by this stage. Thank goodness the classroom teachers were supportive, and mostly they ignored this inane requirement and did it themselves.
And so, I got my own classroom.
What a dream! To write something on the board without having to rewrite it 6 times! To have desks set up for group work, and to set up carpet space for activities. To have posters on the wall. To have all the books , magazines and manga that were gathering dust in a box set up in a reading corner.
My first classroom was old, had asbestos, was sweltering in summer and freezing in winter, but it was all mine and I absolutely loved it. I was able to manage the class based on my own beliefs about how Languages should be taught.
My advice to others is to go to your admin with solutions and not problems, and be prepared to be a little subversive.
And by the way, the year after I left that job, my wonderful classroom was officially declared condemned and bulldozed!
*Have you fought for your own teaching space?
*Were you successful?
*What advice do you have for those taking on the challenge?
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