Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Next time, I'm hiring the cast of Design Star

So I've been an elementary school teacher in the same NYC public school for two years now, right? I'm not exactly Ron Clark, but I know my way around the classroom. I know what a meeting area is. I know not to surround a meeting area with any fascinating objects that will inevitably interest my second graders more than, you know, our meeting. I know what seat sacks are for.

But I had not, until today, ever attempted to set up my very own classroom, and what I have to say about that is HOLY EFFING WHOA.

So first of all, my very unscientific sampling of NYC public school teachers on Facebook suggests that teachers all over the city have been dutifully trekking into their classrooms all week to set them up (despite objections by the union). But noooooo, not at my school, where we very specifically received one day. One lousy, measly day, a day on which I also happened to be scheduled to attend a workshop.

So what did I do? Did I maturely shrug my shoulders and say, "I don't want to give up my unpaid summer time anyway; I'll just get it all done on Tuesday"? Um, that'd be a nope; I e-mailed my principal in a panic and in return was granted today.

Today. One lousy, measly day (besides Tuesday). So this morning, the soon-to-be Mr. Brave and I loaded up the car and headed off to school.

I thought I was prepared for the overwhelming task ahead of us, but it turns out nothing can prepare you for trying to center gigantic sheets of backing paper so that no bulletin board is peeking out from underneath the borders, or for hanging a number line three inches from the ceiling, or for putting tiny squares of mounting paper on cut-out candles so that every single freaking kid's birthday is represented on the little month cakes. Or for moving heavy furniture from wherever the janitors decided to leave it. Or for unlocking closet after closet full of...I don't even know what those closets were full of, because I haven't finished unpacking them yet.

Seriously, people. The backing paper alone took like a good hour and a half, mostly because it turns out it takes way more backing paper than I thought it would to cover my enormous bulletin boards, so we had to go rogue and borrow some from a supply closet, which turned out to be all ripped at the bottom. As Mr. Brave put it: "Who knew putting backing paper up was just as difficult as climbing Mount Kilimanjaro? I mean, it's just as dangerous, and what's the altitude at the top of that bulletin board, anyway?"

Then our next major task was to rearrange all the furniture, a challenge made even more daunting by the fact that the janitor had specifically warned me not to slide any furniture across the floor (you know, right after he put all my furniture wherever he felt like it). So before we actually moved anything, Mr. Brave did his best to help me conceptualize my vision for my layout. Now, Mr. Brave is brilliant in many ways, but he is not a second grade teacher, and our conversation went something like this:

Miss Brave: "So if I put the meeting area here..."
Mr. Brave: "What's a meeting area? Like, what do you do there?"
Miss Brave: "...and I wanted to have my Fundations stuff near the meeting area..."
Mr. Brave: "What's Fundations?"

On the up side, though, Mr. Brave was consistently outraged on my behalf: "Your Fundations cards are missing the Y! They should buy you teachers a whole new package! They should give you laborers to move all this furniture for you!"

In the end, I arranged my classroom...exactly the way the previous teacher had it. Hey, it worked for her.

Then, in the middle of the day, I got a text from one of my co-workers; apparently our union rep had sent out an e-mail encouraging us not to come in early to set up our rooms. If we come in early and give up our free time, the thinking goes, the DOE won't have any motivation to push back the first day of school for students.

Now, this was my first year setting up a classroom, but it was definitely at least a two-person, two-day job. You can't convince me that if I hadn't given up my own time to set up, I wouldn't have just been screwing myself over for, like, the rest of the year. Remember back in June when we first got our two days before Labor Day back and the great plan was for all the teachers to show up on the same day as the students? Now there would have been a clusteryouknowwhat.

By the end of the day, we had been at school for close to ten hours. We used all of our double-sided poster tape, all of our mounting squares, and about a million staples (thank you, one-touch stapler). My school shopping list got longer, my French-manicured nails got shorter, and the first day of school got a heck of a lot closer.


Angela Watson said...

Not trying to find reason within NYC schools, but how many teacher pre-planning days did they give you all? Did the union think that the school board would push back the first day for students just a few days before school was set to begin? Even if every teacher refused to come in early, did they really think that would have an effect?

Re: the whole "they should buy you teachers a whole new set"...that kind of talk from loving family members irritates me. I am careful NOT to tell either my husband or father about how many things we are lacking in the classroom because they get all fired up about it and don't understand when I say THAT'S JUST THE WAY IT IS. "But it doesn't have to be that way! Speak up!" And they have a point. So the conversation exhausts me more than just not having the materials. Arrgh.

miss brave said...

Angela -- It used to be that teachers came in for two staff development days on the Thursday and Friday before Labor Day, with the first day of school for students being the day after Labor Day (Tuesday). But before that, teachers weren't required to come in before Labor Day at all. For years, many teachers fought to get those two days back. This year, with the budget crisis, the city gave up the two days. So the first day of school for EVERYONE was scheduled to be Tuesday, which obviously would have been a mess. So, right before school let out for the year in June, the city pushed back the first day of school for students to Wednesday, with teachers coming in to set up their rooms on Tuesday. I think the union's objections were supposed to set the stage for the future -- "don't come in early this year so we can get another day out of them next year" -- but I didn't think one day would have been enough time.

Angela Watson said...

Ohhh, okay, I see. I don't GET IT, but I see. Only in NYC would they consider having teachers start on the same day as the students. Unreal.

Ms. Peace said...

We didn't have permission to come in either (in fact, we were told specifically NOT to come in), but I just decided to give it a try on Monday and I showed up with a car full of stuff. I figured, worse case scenario, I'd drop it off in my classroom before getting kicked out. A lot of other teachers did the same and eventually the AP was passing out room keys. We've been going in every day since.

Erica Thomas said...

I'm going in today for the first time. But since I'm in high school, I'll be setting up at least 3 different classrooms to be shared with probably 3-4 different teachers each. I have some handy Spanish posters and borders but feel weird about "claiming" wall space as my own. I think I'll drop off my supplies, make some copies that need to be made, and get an idea of what Tuesday will look like.

Sarah said...

I always come in before we're scheduled to start. So does just about every teacher I know (most in Texas). Is it just us that come in without pay to set up? Of course, we have no union. I just like to be prepared and if its on my time, oh well. I also hear you on the supplies. I was bying printer ink the other day for school and my uncle was appalled. My husband is getting used to it. Good luck geting everything ready! I am shocked that they wanted the teachers and students to start the same day! Crazy!