It astounds me every year when people seem surprised that I -- a teacher -- am going to work this week… They seem confused.
“Doesn’t school start after Labour Day?” they ask, and it is all I can do not to reply in a snotty voice, “yes, but the classrooms don’t set themselves up, and unfortunately we haven't yet developed self-writing daybooks or lesson plans.”
Instead, I try to jovially explain that there is lots to be done before the children arrive on Tuesday.
The first order of business yesterday morning was wiping down every shelf in the room, with a damp cloth, in order to remove the layer of dust and grime that was three inches thick, so that I would have somewhere to put the items in the the 100 or so boxes, should I ever work up the courage to unpack them.
Proud of my 45-minute cleaning and wiping accomplishment, I discarded the now-black cloths I had used, and went to chit chat with a colleague down the hall.
Then it was time to begin unpacking bins and boxes.
Unfortunately, I had not labeled many of my storage containers when they were hastily packed amidst various PD- and illness-related absences in June, and so now, every new box was a treasury of surprises. Perhaps most challenging was “where are the scissors?” By some miracle, I unearthed that box early on, and managed to locate the scissors, so that I could more easily cut open the tape that so securely bound subsequent boxes.
Setting up the basic structure of the classroom is foundational, and must be done before timetables and lessons can be printed and planned, or pencils handed out, or coat rack labels made and posted. But doing so requires some careful consideration and reflection. Where should things best go? What worked well last year? What changes will need to be made, and what will be the practical implications and side effects of those changes? This refection is often done while standing in the middle of the room.
The teacher stands -- hands on his hips -- amidst the chaos, surveying and taking stock of his surroundings. To the untrained eye, it may look as though he is staring around blankly, as he may appear completely lost and bewildered. But rest assured, reader, that in the teacher’s mind, a whole literacy program is unfolding, a flow for handing out math manipulatives or distributing art supplies or science materials is being developed, and effects of classroom set-up on behavior management are being considered.
Eventually, the teacher comes out of this trance-like state, and begins moving things physically, or making lists to organize tasks to be completed over the coming days.
Sometimes, when there is a mental block, a walk down the hall to chat with and distract other, harder-working colleagues can be helpful. I myself spent several hours engaged in such activities, taking with me various snacks to endear myself to the colleagues whose classroom work I was disrupting. Many new ideas emerged during these wanderings, and when I returned to my own classroom just before lunch, it was with a new-found vigor for the task at hand.
Happily, a generous friend visited in the afternoon and obliged me with several hours of unpacking boxes, sorting and arranging reading corner books, and with planning and developing a number line which I hope to post on the wall in my classroom later this week.
A colleague who was a little more organized and further ahead, and her two children, also donated their time, unpacking recess board games, helping sort math picture books, and stapling bulletin board trim up.
Although we had to leave the school by 3:20 p.m., an early start the next morning on my part ensured that I had made considerable progress by the time I left to go march in the protest rally at Queen’s Park at noon.
I can now see the surface of my desk, and I know where to locate pencils, spare staples, sticky tack and tape!
Three days remain to set up the classroom and plan for students’ arrival the first week back. There is still much to do, and many ideas to sift through… every September follows some similar rituals and routines, but each start-up also tends to have its own distinct flavour as I try out new ideas, or refine old favourites.
I am looking forward to putting the finishing touches onto the learning space in the days ahead so that I can get down to the business of planning the welcome, introduction and learning for my new set of students this year!