I have worked in an elementary school for 2 years now. I realized that the school itself lacks a sense of place for the teacher’s and I believe this is also common across teachers in charter schools. At KIES, the school I work at, every classroom has the same rug, shelves, eno board, kidney tables, student tables and chairs. Aside from that, the teachers can do whatever they want with the classroom. This is true for all KIPP Elementary schools in NYC. The teachers decorate the classrooms to make the room liked and enjoyable for the students. They put together a nice door for the kids to feel welcome, and they put motivational quotes and vocab walls.
This made me realize that the teachers’ sense of place is not attached to the building at all. Their sense of place is attached to their students. Which is why teachers are either gone as soon as the students are, or stay to make sure the next day is successful for their kids. Often times teachers say FINALLY on their way out, or do a happy dance when they can finally leave these boring building. I pointed out in a previous blog post that the teacher spaces in the school sucked. This discourages teachers to love the staying and working in the school and I believe it decreases utility a lot. Teachers aren’t as happy as they should be and only come to work to be with the kids, and then be gone.
Administrators and the OPS team should attempt at transforming these places to give teachers more of an attachment to the school so they are happier and more productive. Firstly SPACE. The teacher rooms are either crowded or not functional which causes them to not be used or ignored. The colors in the rooms are depressing (dark grays, ugly purples) and the furniture is so awkward (small tables with big chairs or vice versa). The lack of attention is a waste of money and a waste of space.
My goal for the upcoming summer is to suggests ways to make these spaces more usable. I’d like to transform one of the rooms by removing a huge copier (and moving it elsewhere) to make space for 2 tables that can seat 8 people. I’d have the tables face each other, with one side against the wall so people have space to walk around and work quietly. I’d put frequently used supplies in an organized bin in the middle of the table so teachers have what they need to work. I’d have a small printer in the left corner near the door. I’d keep the microwave, and coffee maker where they are and just have everything there more organized and actually filled with supplies.
I think implementing these changes is a great step forward to increasing staff happiness and having a stronger school staff community as well. The teachers will begin to hang out more in the “nice working room” and hang out with each other which will strengthen community and create fond memories which other. Often times the OPS team and Administrators miss the importance of not only having the school please children and parents, but also the educators.