Teaching in Other People’s Spaces # 1: Classroom Seating & Set-up

Teaching in Other People's Spaces Part 1: Classroom Seating & Setup

I’m teaching English again for the first time in a while. Two years ago I cotaught with my friend and colleague Drew Murphy, but it’s been six years since I’ve had an English class all to myself. This year’s teaching doesn’t have much in common with previous years. The last time I taught English solo it was a totally different curriculum, at a totally different school, and with a totally different population of students. But it does have one major thing in common: I’m teaching in someone else’s space. Actually, I’m teaching in more than one someone’s space. This has posed a number of challenges both for the kind of classroom environment I want to create for my students and in terms of every day logistics, from classroom seating to anchor charts to setting routines for instruction.

I assumed since schools are frequently challenged for space, other people must have written about this. I asked Google. Shockingly, Google found nothing relevant (this could mean this series of posts will have a serious SEO challenge, or it’s just me and it means everyone will find me!) So here is the start of a series on how to teach classes in other people’s spaces. First up, classroom seating and set up.

Challenge: Arranging Spaces

I am currently teaching in two different classrooms. Thankfully, both of the teachers have been open and welcoming to me and my class. However, they each have a completely different size and shape. They have completely different classroom seating and furniture. The teachers in each room are teaching completely different subjects have completely different styles.

Classroom seating in a 5th grade math/science room

One is a 5th grade math and science classroom. It has soft, warm lighting and big windows that look out onto the river. Orange node chairs are arranged in a circle, and there’s a comfortable couch in one corner for independent reading. There is no teacher desk, just a stool next to a low cabinet that the teacher uses as a work station as needed.

The other is a health classroom where primarily 7th-10th graders have class. Folded up tables are pushed up to one side of the room. When unfolded and set up, the tables barely fit all of the students. Chairs are arranged in a circle to facilitate discussion, but don’t have a writing surface attached like the chairs in the other room. A large teacher’s desk dominates one corner of the room.

The bigger challenge was in the second room, where we would have to set up the room in a configuration where everyone could see the board, and everyone had space to write and take notes. We also had to do it as quickly as possible. And I had to run from a meeting on the other side of the building. Depending on which class it is, tables might be set up, and they might not be. This is a lot of variables for me, and definitely a lot of variables for a class of 22 eighth graders. We established a routine. If tables are not set up, they would take care of arranging them. Which has worked out well. I’m still trying to figure out the best configuration for the tables so that everyone has space. But we’re (slowly) getting there.

Challenge: Creating a Proactive Classroom Seating Plan

The set ups of the two rooms are so vastly different, so it was difficult to assign student seats. And in my experiences doing it before, doing so ended up being confusing for the students and for me. So I decided to let it go. We had a conversation about the responsibility of being an 8th grader. I told them that they were allowed to choose their own seats, but with the caveat that they needed to make good decisions about where they would work best. I had to set clear expectations for what “working best” looked like. There also had to be clear consequences for not working well. The biggest issue with setting expectations and agreements was not having wall space to hang up the agreement (see next week’s post for more on that topic).

So far, this is working for us. Reminders to students to sit where they can focus have been helpful, although I’ve had to be creative with how to work around not really having space to post agreements. So far, I’ve set an expectation and they’ve met that expectation. I am worried about the students who have preferential seating as an accommodation. However, we sit in a circle most of the time and my instruction isn’t all that teacher directed. But I do need to be more aware of those students as I’m teaching.

Have you ever had to teach in another teacher’s space? How did you work with other people’s set ups and classroom seating plans?

Next time: The challenge of not being able to have bulletin boards and anchor charts.

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