This question was plaguing me as I lugged a huge box of resources from the English department across the school to the Science Lab where I teach English to class of Yr12 students. As my spinal column compressed itself under the weight of the resource box I thought that if teachers were meant to teach this way, they would have been born with four legs and a tail.
In the past 12 months I have taught English in a Horticulture Room, a P.E ‘space’ an ICT lab, a DVC drawing room, four different English classrooms as well as the Science lab. And I’m one of the luckier ones in my department! Is it possible to teach effectively in this way?
There are certainly many drawbacks to constantly being on the move. Inevitably you are often late to class, appear permanently frazzled, forget something important and never have that one resource on hand that you know will help that child in front of you. Your classroom walls no longer function as teaching tools and you no longer feel ‘grounded’. To top everything off, you end your days with cervical spondylotic myelopathy.
It was with great anticipation that I enrolled for the ‘Ulearn: Changing Spaces’ conference. Any course offering to explain how to connect the learning when we are constantly changing spaces, sounded like something I definitely needed to go to.
Of course, it didn’t take long to realise that the course had nothing to do with teachers moving between classrooms. It was all about how to teach in innovative learning environments and the importance of developing a common language of learning that students can use to navigate their way around the curriculum. Physical space was far less important than ‘thinking space’. It was about how to promote collaborative learning and digital fluency in order to develop student agency. It had nothing to do with carting boxes around. I was a little disappointed. I won’t pretend that the thought of modern learning environments didn’t fill me with excitement, but sometimes all you need is something to help with your back pain.
Much has been written about the perceived issues with Modern Learning Environments, but I am certainly not hostile to them. I would welcome the opportunity to work in more innovative and collaborative ways than I am currently able to in a traditional classroom – if I ever get one I can call my own. The move away from the model where the teacher is the centre of everything and holds dominion in ‘their’ learning space is healthy and the idea of shared learning spaces is a positive step. Right now though, I don’t really need an MLE (modern learning environment) or an ILE (innovative learning environment ) or an FLE (flexible learning environment). I would happily settle for an AOLE (any old learning environment) just as long as it happens before my back gives out!
So, in answer to the question: do teachers really need their own classroom, the answer is YES THEY FUCKING DO! The classroom doesn’t need to be a single room, however, (why do advocates of MLEs also call them ‘cells’) and it could easily be a larger area designed for collaborative work. However, the teacher definitely needs a space that they can control in order to improve the learning experiences for students. It is also essential for their own sanity. And their backs.