Saturday, September 6, 2014

Reflective Teaching Blog Challenge Day 5: Describe Your Classroom

Day 5: Post a picture of your classroom and describe what you see -- and what you don't see that you'd like to.

Because I work in post-secondary, the ability I have to 'decorate' my classroom is pretty limited. My classroom is used by a couple of other teachers, for meetings, and it's usually the first stop on the "Million-dollar walk" our institutional advancement team gives to donors. But I have been able to make some improvements that have increased its functionality. 

My classroom is on the corner of our building, which is +100 years old, brick, and is slowly melting into the swampy earth beneath it. The building has had numerous additions jigsawed onto it, so there are staircases that only go to this level, doorways to closets that were offices, and levels that only run half the length of the building. The stairway to HR is on the other side of my office, and there's even a large glass window to see to it, but I need to leave the Center, walk past the bathrooms, through the Hub, and enter the "Heritage Hall." Pieces of historical treasure - a photo, a worksheet from 1914, a textbook from a program that no longer exists - are scattered throughout the building, testament to the role the institution played in the creation of formal technical education (our first president, Charles Prosser, is known as the father of vocational education; the college's namesake made his money through a staple Minneapolis company) and in partnership with the appropriate industries. 

The learning center, which houses my classroom, was built in place of the main office about 10 years ago. In fact, the storage closet in my office was the original vault, and there is a sort of secret passageway to the original main entrance on the far side of the Center. We're the most recently updated part of the building, so the decisions of earlier decades - brick over a part of the window to save energy, cinder block walls and solid doors, shop lights - don't get (much) in the way of things like air movement, natural light, or feng shui. 

The dimensions of my classroom, along with a giant bump in the middle of the front wall, make it so my students need to sit away from the glass door and half-glass wall. This is wonderfully conducive to a modified "U", perfect for authentic classroom discussion (not the kind where the teacher calls it discussion and it's really lecture) and group work. 

I am sort of embarrassed to admit my favorite part of my classroom: my five full-size whiteboards. A few years ago, I discovered that I was going through a few packs of sticky chart paper and accompanying markers a semester. And I needed to throw away all the used paper, and make sure students were actually writing on the work tables instead of the wall (so the markers didn't bleed through), and then make students shuffle through the rows of work tables to post their papers instead. Whiteboards were an investment, but my team came to a point in the budget cycle where we had some money we wanted to spend. A rare instance in my life, I got up the courage to ask my manager if she would approve the purchase, coordinated with receiving to have them all brought up, and scheduled our maintenance student workers to come up and install them. 

I use them at least once a class period, for all of my classes. They have been invaluable for teaching how to "draw out" a topic for thoughts, to organize thoughts before they actually go in sentences, and to revise a sentence for agreement or development. Students learn from each other, and they can see my feedback on others' work. 

In a way, the combination of the history behind my classroom and the improvements I've made in the name of collaborative learning reflect my teaching philosophy almost completely. Being able to foster organic learning through curiosity, intrinsic value, and collaboration in an environment that is rich with story and representative of the time our institution has spent becoming an integral part of the technical education community and partners with the industry is incredible. I look forward to being a part of the continuing, growing history through my work in this classroom. 

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