Alas for my walls — and for the classroom that never was

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Under PARCC, all materials on the wall with any academic content whatsoever are supposed to be removed or covered. My walls were covered in paper.

covered walls

Eduhonesty: Over Memorial Day weekend, I came back to a larger picture on the issue of walls. I have been adapting, adapting, adapting, until I’ve reached the point where I frequently don’t even notice the changes I am making in order to fit into the New Educational Order. The fact that I did not hang the Twilight posters this year passed without much notice. A few, former students remarked on the barren quality of my walls at the start of the year, but my current students had little basis for comparison. Most had never spent time in my former classrooms. They’d never seen the cardboard R2D2 stand-up I have used to hide cords behind the computer. They did not miss my Harry Potter or Twilight posters. They did not know my Star Trek posters were still wrapped in rubber-banded tubes.

All this year’s posters are academic or character-based in orientation. I support various math facts, the periodic table of elements, and the need to work hard on academics. I managed to slip in a couple of diversity posters. No one can complain about posters of jelly beans or Frederick Douglass supporting diversity. But in response to administration emails and a coach’s negative comment about last year’s walls — “What are those things for anyway?” — I kept the room simple this year. I’ve taped up enough student work to keep the space from looking barren, but I believe my walls are emblematic of the garbage compactor walls closing in on teachers. I’ve tamped down manifestations of my interests and my personality because those manifestations always seems to be wrong for one reason or another.

In this time of no puppies, when Assistant Principals tell teachers to remove their wheaten terrier from any PowerPoints for fear of distracting students from bell-to-bell instruction, I decided the safest move for my walls was no move at all. Other than obvious essentials such as the order of operations, various math facts and the story-problem-solving formula by one of our contracted partners, I mostly left the walls alone. I did create a word wall and another mathematical operations word wall. Toward the end, I tacked up a few laminated writing strategies and snuck in a few pictures. I’ve never had so much empty space in a room, however.

In the past, students always seemed to be enthusiastic about my walls. We made connections over those walls. We discussed the Avengers. We talked about Harry and Ron. We reminisced about Dr. Seuss. We debated Edward versus Jacob in Twilight and the strange attraction that vampires seem to hold. I bought used copies of the books that inspired these movies and passed them on to students.

I recently took a survey for the University of Chicago. That survey asked if I had had time this year to make connections with students. Well, yes. I always make connections with students. But, this year, I was always felt as if I might get in trouble for trying to do so. The words bell-to-bell instruction were thrown at me more than once by the man who wanted the terriers out of the PowerPoints. Those words came up in emails and staff meetings.

I don’t know who these people are who think that twelve- to fourteen-year-old kids will work nonstop all the time through 82 minute periods without break. (We teachers took the occasional class water break or stretch break anyway.) Even adults need breaks. Every time I hear about another school district eliminating recess and taking away more lunch minutes, I wince. Who are these people? Do they remember what it was like to be a kid?

Eduhonesty: For the record, kids are not miniature adults. Anyone who does not recognize this fact should not be working in education. Also, teaching is a relationship game, and student effort is frequently directly related to the strength of the teacher-student bond.

P.S. I looked around my room this morning and I’ll admit it’s not so bleak as the above post would make out. A small, tasteful, Severus Snape magnet is stuck to my filing cabinet. I do have a matted picture of a dragon that says, “It was a dark and stormy knight.” Stuck on the wall near my desk, I placed a small, matted copy of the dead parrot speech from Monty Python. That dead parrot has followed me for nine years now, the green in the photo long faded to shades of yellowish-gray. My room sports a small picture of Darth Vader in Micky Mouse ears, and a Guardians of Galaxy calendar. I hid that calendar during my evaluations. I mean, how can you trust anyone who objects to your using the word “minions” because the word has “connotations that do not convey what we want for our students.” Ummm, my students are unaware of those connotations. They loved Despicable Me and the sequel. They are happy to be my minions.

parrot

But I look around the room and I realize that personality and interests will out. I have owned my cinematic favorites, even if I did briefly stash the Guardians calendar. I can’t remember if that evaluation fell on Gamora or Drax the Destroyer, but I’d have had to stash that calendar in any case. It contained weaponry. Admittedly, that weaponry was being wielded by a mutant raccoon, among others, but, as far as the calendar went, I decided it was better safe than sorry.