Having just completed the New Teacher Orientation and beginning of the year preparations at Seoul International School (SIS), I wanted to share some of my thoughts while I set up my classroom.
The Elementary and Middle School at SIS moved into a brand new building this year, and I have the privilege of teaching in a gorgeous new classroom. The first order of business for me was to unpack dozens and dozens of boxes that the previous teacher at SIS left behind. Upon unpacking these boxes and looking at the teaching materials that were left for me, I started thinking about the different spaces I wanted in the classroom. The classroom I am assigned to is a rectangular room, where one of the four walls is just windows, looking out into a forest (?). I asked myself, “What would I need in this classroom so that I can make the students feel like they are part of a learning community, where the teacher is not the main authority in the classroom, and that learning happens as a group?”
The first thing I needed was a meeting space. The meeting space is essential for me because all of the big ideas and discussions will be shared by the students in this area. With some of the furniture immobile as they were designed to fit in specific areas in the classroom, this proved to be a challenge. I wanted our meeting space to be visible as soon as one entered the classroom. While moving desks around, I found that I created a huge open space in front of the cubbies, right by the door. However, that area didn’t feel like the center of the classroom. I decided to place the easel and carpet for our meeting area on the other side of the classroom. That way, as soon as anyone entered the room, they don’t even have to turn their head to see this space.
The second thing I wanted in my classroom was for the seating area for the students to be in small groups. I was supplied with individual desks so I opted to put them together into groups of four and five. Deciding the numbers was the easy part, I then thought about the angles the tables had to be in. Some things I considered were: 1. They are generally facing the “front” of the classroom where the projection screen and white boards are mounted. 2. They are not directly facing the “front” of the class because I do not intend on standing in the “front” of the class that often. 3. The groups are placed in a way so that each group can have their own meeting, and that they can also easily discuss things with students in other groups. Though this can lead to increased side conversations, during collaborative work times, this set up may be more effective.
Setting up the classroom while thinking about these things was interesting as I had to move around to see the class from different angles, thinking about how I, as the teacher, can be in this classroom as one of the community members or a facilitator throughout the year.
Once I was done setting up all the books, materials and the furniture in the class, I looked around and was horrified. The walls looked so bare! Then, I remembered the wise words of Harry Banks (@kinderbanks), my co-teacher from last year, when I panicked for the same reason the day before school started. “Akio, they’re (the walls) supposed to be bare. The students aren’t here yet.” Reminding myself of those words calmed me, and now, I’m ready to have kids in the classroom starting tomorrow morning! I can’t wait to start learning with them!
Here are some photos of my classroom. Yes, the walls are bare. Thanks for reading, sorry for blabbing.