At first glimpse, it is a typical classroom complete with drab industrial carpet, flickering fluorescent lights and sturdy plastic furniture. Stop and look, though, and it becomes foreign territory with rainbows and stars and posters brightly advertising the virtues of learning expository and more comic sans text than I would ever care to see. Everything from the student desks to the white board to the the teacher’s desk (which isn’t really a desk so much as a table that vaguely resembles a kidney bean) are low to the grand leaving me to wonder if the teacher had an affinity for low riders or if I’ve suddenly grown a few feet.
I exhale deeply. This will be my second home. This will be where we gather as a group and learn and laugh and grow to care about each other in a community. The term community is over-used – as taglines for social media outlets and megachurches and large tract housing developments. It’s a humble word, belonging in the earthy reality of humanity and this place certainly has an earthy feel. It smells of old books and dust and the cheap cologne that is popular with the younger students in our little urban enclave.
I can’t picture the community. Not yet at least. I can’t see past the cluttered furniture and the circle time rug and the walls painted beige and off-white and powder blue and a smug orange cat imploring me to work harder for crying out loud, or I just might end up like him – an educational poster child of sloth and excess.
A few weeks later, I’m sitting the near-empty classroom, knowing that we will need space more than furniture. The room was never intended for adolescents. I still can’t see it, but there are moments when it comes to life – vague, fuzzy pictures of students I don’t yet know. I try to focus on the future, but as I haul the bookshelves around the room, I recall conversations and debates and student insights about the books. I think about murals we painted and hours spent at the food bank.
I stand with my buckets of blue paint and stir the creamy liquid. A few hours later, my arms ache, but it’s thereupeutic – quiet time when I have the chance to think about the purpose of teaching. I’m not lesson planning so much as thinking through the silence, trying to get a perspective and remember why I am here.
After a few hours, I stop and look at the streaky wall. It isn’t pretty. It isn’t professional. Yet, I’ll keep at it and the room will evolve into our space. I used to believe that a teacher had to build community. I now see it as something that grows and evolves. This is the first step, that initial primordial element that will grow into a living, breathing community.
A few days later, I’m adding the finishing touches on baseboards. I scrape off the dried paint from my hand and marvel at the way it comes off in one rubbery piece. I step back and it takes shape – the picture of what this place will be. I begin hanging up former student art work – decoupage symbols explaining the reading strategies, paintings of the six traits, a Jackie Robinson picture. I create the solid black bulletin boards that will be plastered with the student collages and paint our class motto: Learn to Serve.
Stepping back, I realize that the transformation has begun. The picture is still a little fuzzy, but I can feel it. This is becoming my second home.
Photo Credit – asa susan’s photostream on Flickr Creative Commons