Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Roving Classrooms (Or New Teacher Hazing)

I like to think of it as new teacher hazing. Then it would appear to have some purpose instead of just being another example of an incredibly incompetent educational system. And it would just be a better story to say that all the new teachers have to go through hazing. So I've decided to refer to it as a hazing ritual from now on.

"It" is roving classrooms, a practice that I believe is now obsolete in all of Oakland, due to declining enrollment. (I knew there was something good that had to come out of the mass exodus to private schools!)

When I started teaching in January 2000, I think we had something like 950 kids at our school. This was far too many children for the existing classrooms, but not what the district considered full capacity. I think full capacity at that point was considered to be something like 1100 students. So what many schools did was to go year-round and have "tracks." At our school, there were four tracks, and one track was always on vacation. This made for a ridiculously complicated schedule: there would be three weeks when tracks A, B, and C were in school and D was on vacation. Then D would come back and track A would be on vacation, so tracks B, C, and D were in school. It went like this all year.

Besides the obvious logistical problems, this also had other ramifications. One quarter of the classes (two, maybe three classes per track) had no classroom. They had "roving classrooms." This meant that every three weeks, the teacher had to pack up ALL his or her stuff, all student work, EVERYTHING, and move to another classroom, whose teacher was on vacation. And the school would give you an hour of paid time to do this. Any other time was on your own. Also, there were so many teachers in this situation - and the ones who weren't were trying to make room for people to move into their classrooms - and everyone was so stressed out by the lack of support and the crazy schedule, that no one ever helped other teachers move. Ever.

Another thing about teachers - and this is not to put down my colleagues; this applies to all teachers - they are very very territorial about their classrooms. And they're not about to share with other teachers. They were supposed to provide storage space, and I think one teacher once gave me most of a drawer. But they wouldn't let me hang anything up, put anything in cupboards, use bookshelves, nothing. And in addition, I was not to use their things. One teacher (who was known to be really grouchy old lady) yelled and swore at me every time she saw me because she was so upset about me being in her classroom. She even came in during her vacation to sit at her desk and glare at me and yell at my students all day.

I said that there were only three fourths of the students in school at any one time. That is not exactly true. It would be true if the people could count days. However, the person who set up the schedule of the tracks apparently couldn't count, so all the tracks were short about two weeks. These days had to be made up when other tracks were in session, in any space available. Once I had to teach in the auditorium, once in the auditorium lobby, and I counted myself lucky for not having to teach in a broom closet! The best part about teaching in the auditorium was that there were no desks, no heat, hardly any light, and during rainy day recess, they put all the upper graders in there with nothing to do (this was about 450 kids) and I was supposed to teach at the same time.

This roving classroom year was the year I taught first grade. The poor kids never did get the schedule down or remember what classroom we were in at the time. We'd line up to go in and they'd make their way towards three different classrooms. The other teachers would have to call me and say that one of my confused children was in their classroom.

Another time I'll write about the racial problems caused by having tracks based on language. Big problems.

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