Designing Teachers

*The featured image is from my colleague’s Ben’s room. He and his partner created an amazing space for his students: this is the huge wall to display the projector, and is whiteboard paint. He spent a lot of money and time on this for his Spanish classes. 

If you know a teacher, this is the season of the classroom picture parade. I’m right there in it, too, sharing ideas and my set-up in my new classroom. And never once did I think I was doing this because of gender norms. I created the space so students would feel welcome and encourage creativity and free thinking. My room is a studio space, a shared space. It will get messy, lived in, pencils will be broken, gum wrappers shoved into creative and resourceful nooks and crannies, dry erase markers and glue sticks will dry out, and all the while I’ll clean it after students leave, making the space fresh again. It’s a very old building, and all that comes with that. Above the bulletin board in the hallway, I discovered a piece of hard candy that was as stubborn as a piece of melted plastic. The windows don’t open easily, and I suspect the dust in the ceiling tiles to be of a carcinogenic nature.

‘Prison Cells and Pretty Walls: Gender Coding and American Schools’ by Jennifer Boglioli Binis. As a historian, the article is organized and informative through the lens of how (white) women teachers have moved through history to make the classroom spaces “safe” or pretty. But I can’t quite connect the content of the essay to the call to action:

The solution, or a way forward, isn’t about striving for gender-less schools, any more than it is insisting schools be color-blind. Instead, it’s worth having open conversations about the unintended consequences of replicating spaces designed for white women’s comfort, protected by white men’s idea of safety. How might schools be different if they focused on the comfort and safety of boys and girls of color?

I’ve thought about this, and asked for my friends’ thoughts, too.

When fixing up and decorating our classrooms our intent wasn’t to be “white woman pretty” — first of all, that’s insulting to my teacher colleagues of color who make their rooms amazing. This is more about patriarchal expectations and some interesting generalizations: most male teachers I know do not go to the lengths that my friend Ben does.

Understand that Buzzfeed article is simply bringing up what I am going to call the “Kardashian Effect”–branding, showcasing, and SELLING an ideal. It is right and important to critique and question whatever that ‘ideal’ is–in fact, I hope my insistence upon this was clear in the Twitter thread. Buyer beware. People will try to sell you anything they can–but please remember most of these ideas are just that: ideas. They are not sustainable or pragmatic in practice. If the labels on a bookshelf become more important that the students reading the books, sweet teacher, you have a problem.

Marketing and advertising have a single purpose: ask a question or create a problem you didn’t know you had and solve it for you. Think: what is some new ‘problem’ the IG teachercelebrities created for you? Being prepared and organized for a day’s teaching is one of the evaluative standards we’re judged on.

Criterion 5 Fostering and managing a safe, positive learning environment.

Learning environment; the teacher fosters and manages a safe and inclusive learning environment that takes into account physical, emotional, and intellectual well-being of students.

Look at this rubric. This is one of five rubrics of this depth. And trust me when I tell you, one student jumping and touching a banner can be interpreted as “unsatisfactory.”

Seriously. Look at this. Do you read the subtext of “making room organized and fresh?” I do.

We scour Pinterest boards when we need fresh ideas, and unbeknownst to me follow IG teachers and help them make boatloads of cash. I had no idea those IG teacher-sellers were out there until the Buzzfeed article. Who is spending the money on those supplies? Other teachers. Certainly not the districts and schools. Just over the past week, several teachers were asking for chairs, one teacher was painting her walls, wondering how she was going to get whiteboards in her new-to-her room, and most of the building scurrying to organize, clean out, clean up, and create a space that allows managing almost 800 adolescents. And I’m not feeling like a failure except for one regard: I have yet to figure out how to monetize my knowledge. I am the stable breadwinner in my household of four and earning income that would help my family with medical costs. It is, indeed, what it is. I can’t seem to find my groove like Cult of Pedagogy (who has a store of branded goods) or my dear friend John Spencer (who has published several great books). They’ve done the work, done the writing, and are authentic. Creating and selling their work is perfectly valid. Let’s let go of the teacher-as-martyr who must sacrifice time, money, and creative soul for the sake of the children.

But Val Brown gets to the heart of the issue with this:

If you’re busy buying labels and not addressing implicit bias and racism in the classroom, glue guns and googly eyes aren’t going to help our students.

And it’s understandable I might get a little defensive after spending money out of my own pocket to try to create a classroom atmosphere that students want to be in, and look forward to. But if I am honest with myself, I want them to look forward to seeing me, because I am certainly looking forward to seeing them.

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