Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Does Environment Matter?

             From one-room school houses, to kitchen tables, to sophisticated, technology-rich environs, schools today are as varied as ever. Most people don’t think twice about what a school looks like. However, if you’ve ever taught in a school which was teetering on antiquity, you may feel differently. So, just how important is environment in education? Do the surroundings really matter?
            From my perspective, I think most teachers can teach just about anywhere. And for those who are truly passionate, they deal with what they have to work with and make the best of it. They may have to be creative, but creativity is one of the 4Cs of 21st century skills, right?
            Does this mean I don’t think it matters what a school looks like or the shape it’s in internally (mechanics, electrical, etc)? Absolutely not. Ideally we would all teach in the sophisticated, technology-rich school. Ideally. But reality sets in and we realize that’s not going to happen. Do teachers sit and whine about not having great spaces to work in? Most don’t. Yet, if people saw and knew of the conditions in some schools, they would be appalled.
            The topic is near to my heart since my outdated-but-workhorse of a school underwent renovation this spring/summer. Yesterday teachers and staff moved in and unpacked. It was glorious! What was so great about it? Hot water. Yes, there will be hot water in the staff bathroom. A sink. Yes, there is a sink in the staff lounge. Outlets. Yes, there will be more than two outlets per classroom. Technology. Yes, some rooms will have projectors. Heat and AC. Yes, not just half of the hallway will be warm/cold.
New classroom in the midst of getting set up
            Now having written all that, mostly tongue-in-cheek, I will say that there were days in the past thirteen years of teaching at my school, where it was tough to teach. The heat would barely reach the mid-60s in the classroom, forcing most to keep coats on. It was tough to expect much when my own fingers lagged behind a bit from the cold.
            But those days are past. I am so grateful for the new environment, physically, that we can offer our students on the first day of school. With two other high schools in the city recently receiving some major renovations of their own, it was good to have our state legislature allocate money for our school to be remodeled.
            Now my students, nontraditional kids who usually don’t fit into the “standard school,” can come to a place where it appears we do care. Everything is new and reconfigured to offer more space, more efficiency, and more consideration to students and their needs.
            I’m proud of the work my principal and the rest of the staff did in making this dream of so many years a reality. It’s been a renovation long overdue but one, thanks to our state legislature, that is amazing. You know it’s a good remodel when you get lost going to your own classroom!
            Thanks to the funding of our state, my school will be the coolest alternative school in the state. Physically. But adornments aren’t everything. What’s the environment like in our classrooms? We can have the latest and greatest in the room, but how do we make engaged learning happen? Environment does matter, in all senses of the word. More to come on this topic….

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