What makes my classroom uniquely mine? Well, it’s a bit of a story (isn’t everything?).
In the school in which I formerly worked – a school with super high-need but loveable students, amazing and close-knitted staff, and a revolving door administration which grew more incompetent and eventually hostile to the teaching staff with every revolution – I had my own classroom for 3 years. It was wonderful, and became a haven when things at school went really south. It was a sunny and colorful room, kind of patchwork, proclaiming all over that this was a room of MATH – from my posters of under-recognized mathematicians (Hypatia, Al-Kharizmi) to the neon place value number line to the myriad student workpieces hanging on the walls. I had a double locked closet for all my precious DonorsChoose-acquired supplies and manipulatives, and a great big desk in the back. It was a lovely room, but the school became a prison for me – so what good did all that real estate do me?
Now in my seriously overcrowded mega-high school, where we have two shifts, an annex, and veritable rivers of students in the hallways during passing, I have no classroom to call my own. In fact, during my first term at Midwood, I was in 4 different classrooms. So ‘marking territory’ is a challenge, although some teachers manage to do it (I have zero seniority compared to the veteran staff members with over 20 years at the school). What you will see in my classroom that is unique are two things that I do – or try to – as frequently as possible. First – I NEVER write the date on the board. At least, I never write it directly (unless there is a standardized test being administered). The date, from the day I started teaching 8 years ago, has always been a math problem, and frequently different problems for different classes. For example, tomorrow’s date might be October [35/sq rt 25], 2013. When I was a graduate student, one of the professor’s on whom I modeled my teaching, Erika Litke, did this in class every day – from the moment you walked into her room, you knew MATH was what you should be doing. I have never wavered in this, and I’m kind of proud of that. I love to hear kids in the back of the room trying to figure it out. There were, one year, a pair of 9th grade boys – not my students – who came literally tumbling into the room on top of one another, each trying to figure out the date first. They would calculate, punch each other a little, and tumble out.
The other thing I try to do to make the room my own – but not as consistently – is to post a historical image on the first screen of my Notebook file commemorating the date. So while the kids are working on the Do Now, they are also trying to figure out what historical event is represented by my photo. I choose events that range from the kid-friendly (Roald Dahl’s birthday [9/13], for example – R.L. Stine’s birthday is this coming week) to pop culture references (Disneyworld opened in 1971 one day last week, and Bobby Riggs played Billie Jean King on September 20, 1973) and to more important events, such as the Stock Market Crash on October 19, 1987 or the National Guard-accompanied integration of schools in Alabama on September 10, 1963. There are wonderful moments, such as the day when Donald C., an otherwise shy student, looked at the clip of the tip of South America, and exclaimed “this must be the day that Magellan, a Portuguese explorer completed his circumnavigation of the globe!” And then there are the days that I feel kinda old, like when I had this birthday boy up on the screen last week (September 27), and no one knew who it was.