The women’s room

Would you believe this room thing is still not quite settled?  I have to add another character to the cast–the sensible woman who serves the function of registrar, although we don’t have that title.  Her primary function is overseeing all the technology we use and figuring out what we need and how we can get the most use out of it.  She has three kids at SA, one of whom I taught last year–a bright, slightly bullheaded, out-of-the box thinker–and we’ve bonded over the charm and complications of this boy.  I think I’ll call his mom Penelope.

We spent yesterday morning at a meeting of the full K-12 faculty, which was well run.  The first half was mostly being talked at, but we were all interested because it was all things like a review of our most recent reaccreditation, some plans that are afoot to respond to the recommendations, the progress of some new construction on campus.  A lot of it was good news, and the vibe was cheerful.  The head of school also welcomed new people (who stood and got applauded) and congratulated others who’d gotten married over the summer.

Then we broke up into randomly selected discussion groups to generate ideas and observations around a proposed rewrite of the school mission statement.  The Good Gray Eminence wrote a very clever series of four discussion questions that did a good job of evoking nuanced responses, and he asked us to choose someone to record the discussion and someone to speak to the big group when we returned.  I volunteered to record, thinking that it would keep me from trying to run the meeting–not that I would want to, but that I have a history of stepping into the breach, and people were looking at each other like “You start.” “No, you”–but fortunately two of the most voluble and leadership-y teachers showed up and got the discussion moving, and it really was a good one.  In the end, though, when I read back what seemed to be the major points of our conversation, they all insisted that I speak to the big group, so I did that.  (And fortunately, I got to go first, and though I think I spoke too fast, as I often do, I did make people laugh.  On purpose.)

(One of the things I liked about that discussion group was getting to hear from people in different divisions and departments.  A particularly good contributor was the swim coach, and I also met a middle-school Spanish teacher I didn’t know before.)

So anyway, I checked in with Penelope to see whether the room schedule was in fact final–three classes in Gwendolen’s room, one class in my and Romola’s room, homeroom in Dr. Tea’s.  And turns out that she was about to have to move a middle-school class into Gwendolen’s room (somewhat unusual) because of a space crunch in that building, and would have to find another place for me to be then.  So she and Dr. Tea and I trundled back to her office to look at the schedules and figure things out.

The good news is that we found a way for me to teach two of my AP classes in Gamma’s room, then pop back across the hall to my own room for the third.  That seems like a real improvement to me because Gamma also teaches two sections of AP.  I broke this news to Gamma later and she was fine with it–agreed that this will facilitate our collaboration, suggested that we dedicate a bulletin board to the AP course, etc.  She still has two free periods in her own room, so she didn’t mind getting turned out for my two.  It’s a cozy room, very suitable for juniors, and she keeps the desks in a circle, so no shoving desks around in there.  Definite win.

I’m still in Gwendolen’s room for my one-semester world lit course, and while that’s not ideal, it will be okay.  If something has to be in yet a third room, that’s the one that should be there.

The bad news is that Penelope had actually scheduled the new ninth-grade teacher, Dinah, to teach her two ninth-grade classes in my and Romola’s room.  Dinah is getting roundly screwed by our space shortage, by the way–she’s moving all over the place, and I’m not sure she has one single class scheduled in the room she shares with Elinor.  I assume this is because her schedule overlaps too much with Elinor’s, and again I think that we might have done better to move me in with Elinor and Dinah in with Romola–which is something Penelope observed we actually could do during winter break, if we think it’s better.  (Elinor is mentoring Dinah, so for first semester it does seem supportive to have her in there.)

Anyway, I understand why Penelope put Dinah in there, but the bad news is that this leaves no free periods at all for Romola and me in the room.  And sitting there with Penelope and Dr. Tea, busy being all sensible and constructive, I’m afraid I said, “Well, that is not ideal, but we want to support Dinah, and I think Romola will understand.”  (I was remembering that Romola shared with Gamma her first year, before Gamma got her own room, and that she had to move around a lot–into another building, even, and with just our five-minute class-changing period, that meant a lot of pressure on her to finish a class, grab all the right materials, and book off to the next one.  And that’s very hard to do in high school, when the students are packing up at the same time and wanting to talk to you–and they’re not even supposed to be left unsupervised in classrooms.  Romola was late a lot, and cranky about the situation, and still resents that she was made to do all that moving around.  The situation is better with Dinah, because of the new building–her rooms are all a pencil’s throw from one another.  Not that we encourage pencil-throwing in the hallways, of course.)

What I wasn’t thinking about–and this was a mistake–is how difficult things will be for me if I have to do all that moving around and not be able to come back to my own desk for at least one free period.  It means days when I don’t return to my own workspace for hours.  At the time, I was being distracted by feeling sorry for Dinah, and by wanting to be a good team player with Penelope and Dr. Tea.  But it was not a good response–it was self-abnegating, and not fabulous at all.

Fortunately for me, I went back to the room and broke this news to Romola, and she exploded.  Yes, she said, we want to support Dinah, but look at what they’re doing to her–three preps (that was one of Romola’s complaints her first year) and making her move around all the time!  And, Romola said, I spend half my time around here looking for a place to work!  (I don’t have this problem, because I can work in the faculty room, but she has trouble in there with people having conversations.)  She urged me to think about my needs, and I realized that she was absolutely right–that I shouldn’t agree to be the person who moves around constantly and the person who doesn’t get to be in her own room when she is not moving around.  I thanked her for this perspective–really, I think she is right.  It’s too much.  The benefit to Dinah is small, and the detriment to me is significant.  

So I picked up the phone and called Penelope and said that in discussing the room situation with Romola, I’d realized that the lack of free periods would really compound the difficulty of the room situation, and what could we do?  She came up with one possibility: Dr. Tea’s room is free during one of those blocks, so we could put Dinah in there; or, even better in some ways, we could put Dinah in her own room and move Elinor to Dr. Tea’s room.  (I felt a twinge for Elinor, not to mention Dr. Tea, but I also think it’s okay to spread the pain around departmentally.  Fortunately, I think Dr. Tea has several free periods in her room.)

And now, for the two people who have read this far, we come to my brilliant idea.  There is a social studies teacher who has her own room because of tremendous seniority, but who only actually teaches three (I think) classes.  She also became the freshman dean last year, so I got to know her better, and I know she was trying (with some success) to establish her classroom as a place where freshmen could come hang out, or study during their free periods–but I also know that there were at least four, maybe five, periods during which her room was completely free.  So I said to Penelope, “What about Senior Social Studies Teacher’s room?  I’m thinking that it might be a good thing for Dinah–she’ll get to know the freshman dean, and she’ll be in a space that’s meant to be especially oriented to ninth-graders, which was the point of having her in Romola’s and my room in the first place, right?”

Now, I should be completely honest and confess that as a department we are a little cranky that all the social studies teachers have their own rooms, even the brand-new ones.  They do tend to teach one more class than we do, and to have larger classes overall, so they are a smaller department and easier to house in a smaller number of rooms.  Still, it’s a natural feeling to have, perhaps particularly about this teacher, since she teaches less.    So I had no remorse about suggesting we encroach on her room.  However–she’s a senior person, and the freshman dean, and also quite a constructive person, so she really ought to be a good sport about this.  In fact, maybe we should try to put ninth-grade overflow classes in her room, don’t you think?

Penelope considered this.  She pointed out that the dean’s room is at the other end of the hall, but that didn’t seem like a huge concern to me.  And then she realized that the dean’s room is free for both of those periods, so that if it’s okay with the dean, Dinah could stay in the same room for two consecutive periods, which would ease the change for her.  And we’d have those two free periods in our room!  She agreed to talk to the dean about it, and I said I’d run it by Dr. Tea when we met for coffee with genius girl.

So that’s where things stand.  Personally, I think this is a brilliant idea, with genuine advantages for everyone.  Dr. Tea seemed to like it, although we couldn’t be as frank with a third party there (coffee with genius girl was fun, by the way.  She gave me a preaddressed postcard and asked me to write to her at college).  More will be revealed today.

Wow, I’ve written thousands of words on this room situation.  Then classes will begin and you won’t hear from me for weeks!

4 responses to this post.

  1. It’s a whole different world, isn’t it?

    When I was in my MA program, a prof asked me to read a short story she’d written, which was about a HS teacher, and at one point she had the HS teacher go to an office. And I remember saying something about HS teachers not having offices that I remembered, but having classrooms and one teacher room.

    In a way, though, it’s the same problem: maximize the use of spaces for student learning/teaching within a complex calculus of who needs how much space and what kind of space and for how long.


  2. Posted by Pym Fan on August 29, 2012 at 10:42 pm

    You tell the story so well that it all becomes strangely fascinating. The whole thing sounds like one of those games where you race against the clock to move a lot of little irregular shapes around until they fit together to form a large regular shape. Or else it’s like a slow-motion car accident that’s hard to look away from… I hope Penelope has some kind of scheduling software that will warn everybody BEFORE the first day of class if spaces have been double-booked or something horrible like that…


  3. I hope that your idea flies! And I think that the notion of taking the room-sharing outside of solely the English department is a good idea. Clearly there are structural issues at work that are squeezing the English classes, but if those same structural issues make rooms in other departments available, why shouldn’t you all use them, especially since there’s a faculty room for folks to work in.

    (Meanwhile, for the first time in my now-sixth year of working at FGS, no one else will be teaching in my room. I think I won’t know what to do with myself!)


  4. […] remember the Room Situation?  It still exists, damnit, and obviously adding teachers and courses is only going to make it […]


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