Thursday, September 07, 2006

Academic Claustrophobia

Today in class one of my male students stood up and demonstrated how he can crush a can between his shoulder blades.

I was impressed. I was amused. I was charmed. I was all of those things at once because we happened to be in a spacious classroom. There were many feet in between me and his freakishly flexing shoulder blades. Had one gone awry and flexed in the wrong direction--some sort of sprouting vestigial wing--it would've hit one of his classmates (probably the one with the name I like to go around saying at loud volumes at inappropriate times, like when I'm sitting in Amy and Becky's apartment). I'm okay with it hitting his classmate. I'm not so okay with it hitting me.

Which it would have had we been holding class in another of the rooms I teach in.

This is how I start my days: I walk down a flight of stairs and into a classroom that is the roughly the size of my old apartment's bedroom. Twenty-five student desks, a projector stand (SORRY, the note on it says, THIS IS BROKEN.), and a teacher's desk are crammed into the space. Last time I was in there I had to climb up over the desk to get at the board. Good thing I wasn't wearing a skirt.

And my students? They're too close to me. Too, too close. And I think it's strange that I'm saying this. I'm usually the one who likes to get in groups with students, to sit in the rows with them while others are doing presentations. I like to socialize in those minutes before class starts. I like to chat, tell jokes, let them tell me about their weekends. But in this classroom I walk in and am immediately crushed. Crushed against them, against the board, against the window. There's nowhere to go. I can't move. I can't back away from the board so they can see what I just wrote. And to top it all off, there's no garbage can.

The garbage can thing is an issue with all classrooms at this school, but today I had gum and had nowhere to put it and I felt I was too close to my students to be caught plucking a wad of spearmint gum from my mouth and wadding it into a piece of paper. If I were one of my students, I might think seeing my teacher extract gum from her gaping maw was gross.

Anyway, I think it's strange how much that classroom affects my mood and my class's mood. You can just tell there is a weird energy in that room. It riles them up. It makes them itchy, like they want to go outside and stretch their legs and run, run, run. I want to tell them to all get up and push against the wall to see if they can move it back even an inch--just give me one more stupid inch, please! This coming from a girl who loves to be close to her students (Katy, shut up). You know it's a dire situation when I'm saying this classroom needs to be aired out and widened.

The other two rooms? Well, they're just fine. My 101 students live in a bright, airy room on the first floor of my building that houses English and American studies. It's a good building. If you take the elevators to one of the higher floors you can look out and, on a clear day, see the mist and towers and general pomp of Niagara Falls, Canada. I'm in love. And the lower floor classroom, I'm in love with it too. The window is large and it has blinds, in case I need to stop the students from daydreaming or watching the crosswalk flood with students on their way to the union.

My other 102 class meets in a building that is more a lounge than anything else. There are a lot of couches and tables and open spaces. A few classrooms are sprinkled here and there. The classroom we meet in is big and high-ceilinged. There's plenty of room to maneuver and set up group work.

So my two afternoon classes are great. I can move, they can move, we all can move. I can walk and talk, they can watch me pace. But that first classroom is awful and horrible and stuffy. I don't think any teacher should have to hoist herself up on a desk and slide over it just to get at the chalkboard.

And God only knows what could happen when things let loose in a room like that. I could, for all I know, be risking getting caught in the eye by an errant elbow or Yankees hat or shoulder blade. And that's not exactly a story I want to have to file away in my First Year Teaching Outside of Graduate School Memory Box. And, no, I don't really have that box. Yet.

1 comment:

Squints said...

Raphaaaaaaeel.... i love it...