Friday, September 12, 2014

Year 5: Week 2 – The Office

Most teachers’ offices are there classrooms, but music teachers sometimes are in a different situation. Teachers who share classroom spaces often get an office space. It’s difficult to do work in a room when there’s a class going on.

My first office I ever had as a teacher was a small closet of an office. It was probably 6x8 feet. Crammed in there were two desks, a computer workstation we shared and a bookshelf. It was nice to have some space but at the same time it opened up right to the band room which almost always had class going on in there, so it was never really an escape.

My office-mate was incredibly nice but it was crammed and not the most conducive space to getting work done.

As an assistant, I didn’t have an office. Instead I had a single drawer in a desk. There were a bunch of computers in the room that I assisted in so computer access wasn’t a big deal. There wasn’t really a need for me to have an office since as an assistant, I never called parents and rarely had a lot of desk work to do.

When I came to this school five years ago, there were five teachers including myself sharing three office spaces. Four teachers shared two different offices with a small conference room in-between these spaces. The fifth teacher utilized our MIDI lab as his office.

Five of us were in different spaces and while it worked out pretty well, it didn’t feel like were a department. The art teachers all shared one space, the drama teachers did too and also the science department had one shared office space.

How did the music offices end up getting split up? When the school did it’s most recent construction almost a decade a go, they went with teacher preference. While this made sense at the time it didn’t speak to the larger and more important concern: how do we want our department to work together and how can the space reflect this?

The way you set-up a classroom communicates expectations and values to our students and the way an office is set-up has the exact same effect. We wanted to be more collaborative, get more face time with each other. The administration understood our concerns and goals and got on board to help make this happen.

The plan we came up with knocked down walls turning the two offices and the one small conference room between into one large office with an even smaller room next to it.

With most building projects, our office construction was delayed. We didn’t have access to this space until late into the first week of classes. At the end of week two we still don’t have furniture that fits in the space and because of these there are crates of supplies and files that have yet to be unpacked. Yes, we are not in an idea office situation but we are all together in one space and that has been awesome.

There are some things for us to work out, like how to arrange furniture and share filing cabinets. And even though we can all work with some noise around us, sometimes we all need a little quiet to focus.

The good stuff about being in one space has made a big difference in the feeling of our department. We have a lot more informal conversations that have helped get a lot of things done. We have a better awareness of what each other are doing and we are also having more fun. The progressive chess game that started this week has been a fun distraction, there’s more video games being played and there’s a lot more laughter.

To bring joy into the classroom, it's important that teachers experience joy outside of the classroom.  Teaching can be a very stressful job and teachers need a space, a teacher's lounge, a shared office space to remind ourselves that as difficult as it is to be a teacher, we are not alone in our struggles.  

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