If schools are like homes, then the location of a teacher’s classroom is often considered prime real estate. However, I did not know how much my neighborhood mattered until faced with forced relocation. Next year, the large suburban high school where I have taught since 2003 will move from random to integrated, from scattered to consolidated, from diverse to segregated. The move will create department-based locations. In essence, I will still live in the same community, but my address will change.
In 2003, I took a huge leap and reset my career, moving from an affluent suburb to a large suburban district which continually straddles socio-economic lines. I learned quickly that changing jobs meant losing security and a sense of belonging. Although I had eight years under my belt, I felt like a rookie. My paycheck was considerably larger, helping to dry my tears, but my first year teaching in my current building was painful. I taught off a cart with squeaky wheels careening between six classrooms, barely getting to my next location before the students arrived. My refuge that crazy first year was room 811. That room contained my mentor and her friends. They became my marigolds–flowers in the garden of teaching that are sturdy, dependable, and beautiful. These women had weathered many school leaders and a previous move that scattered them like the seeds from dandelion heads that children blow during springtime. They accepted me and helped me find a home in a building that can be cold and isolating. These professionals showed me excellent teaching materials and methods. They shared their lives with me and were the first people notified upon the birth of my daughter fourteen years ago. Moreover, they broke bread with me and caffeinated my body, invigorating my spirit, forcing me to honor their legacy.
Some of these women have retired. I inherited room 811 and the desk that Mrs. Z. bequeathed to me. It still holds her secrets and post-it-notes from her daughter, my colleague. I feel incredibly indebted to her commitment and passion for teaching and learning. I am honored that she calls me friend and that she paved the way for us to continue the love she gave us. Who are we? We are math, English, world language, and social studies educators. We are mothers and life long learners. We are smart, curious, and dedicated. We are a part of a faculty whom I am proud to call my tribe. As a faculty, we are battle-tested warriors. This move will change our locations, but the mission remains: our whiteboards are the picket signs, and our classrooms are the march. The goal is the preservation of public high school education.
With less than twenty days remaining in the school year, walls are bare, and boxes are ready to be packed; the progress of relocation is hindered by the sounds of my street. The 800s are alive with the sounds of the Spanish language echoing from room 807. High pitched squeals of students with severe disabilities emanate from the self-contained room in 804. Next door, the resource teacher pops in to discuss a shared student’s progress. The guidance office is filled with laughter as students and counselors share a joke. I hear my teacher best friend force her students to recite the stupid Chinese dynasty song for the umpteenth time. I smile as I listen to how she instructs her students. I will miss hearing her through our thin, movable wall. I recognize that she will retire within the next few years, but losing her as a neighbor will be difficult. It is like the diversity of my floor is a microcosm of America–rich, unique, and integrated. We are a messy mix of the haves and have nots that somehow combine to make an orchestra of learning. To borrow from an esteemed colleague’s post concerning the upcoming classroom relocation: “Together, we make a safe space in an authentic neighborhood.”
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I am moving to a room that does not reflect my personality nor my philosophy. My current space is open, inviting, and large. I frequently wave to students and teachers as they pop in. My walls are filled with quotes and stick-on wall decals. My classroom is a second home. My new location feels awkward, with a small hallway separating the entryway from where instruction occurs. The room is in a corner, isolated and adjacent to the men’s faculty restroom. I would be hard pressed to find a space less conducive to my teaching style. In essence, the location for the last decade of my career feels foreign.
Change is a constant in teaching and in life. Change evokes fear, bringing more questions than answers. Regardless of the education reform or district initiative, the students persist in entering our classrooms every school year. Consequently, the teaching staff is the constant in a sea of alphabet soup sounding edicts and ideas from gurus. We, the educators, lack efficacy in decision making. We are seldom consulted nor asked to advise. Many times leaders point to change as a necessity, claiming that what “works” for another school will be our school’s path to success. Other times school administrators decry a need for adjustment due to a nice sounding acronym that promises collaboration. Sometimes, teachers are moved because the neighborhood they are living in is too rowdy.
The resistance to the reorganization is based on many layers of experience. Teachers intuitively know what works; we seek out professional support systems. Sometimes, if we are lucky our neighbors become life-long friends.
I worry the move will come with more costs than benefits. Will changing streets evaporate the magic that propels me out of bed at 5:15 AM every school day? Will I lose my mojo in this move? How will this new location impact my last decade in the profession? Will I end my career strong and proud of what I have offered, or defeated and disillusioned? I am hoping for the former.
Numerology may offer me a clue, a nugget of hope. I have enjoyed two classrooms in my twenty-four-year tenure, both of those classroom numbers, 307 and 811, add up to the sum of 10. For some reason, that little piece of trivia has consoled me and given me the confidence to be an effective educator. My new “home” is room number 115. The new room’s number does not add up to the sum of ten. But, if I add 1+1 and multiply 2 x 5 it still equals 10. So maybe there is a chance for my new space to provide me with an adequate support network, many dynamic lessons, and a place where my students will flourish. Hopefully, the location of my new home will be prime real estate.