Six years ago I taught in a school that was undergoing a steady transformation, not in an ideological or pedagogical sense, but rather in its physical appearance (although you could argue that in some symbolic ways the areas are linked). The original buildings dated from the 1960s and by 2010 they were in dire need of an update for a student population of over 2000 and by general modern education standards. Aside from the general tired feeling associated with most of the rooms; many had leaky roofs, windows that you couldn’t shut, broken furniture that never seemed to get replaced despite requests, and these were the rooms that weren’t overly that bad…
… because then there were the temporary classrooms/portacabins.
Whilst the rest of the school was receiving a deep clean and facelift, the portacabins were deemed ‘fit for purpose’ by the school’s management and so were not going to be disposed of until the main building work had been completed. And around a third of my teaching took place in these.
The portacabins were simply depressing. I hated having to teach in them and I am sure that the students picked up on this despite my forced smile to the contrary. During the winter wetter months, sidelining the fact that the steps leading up to the cabins would often freeze over and therefore be a health hazard in themselves, the rooms were bitterly cold. The heating units regularly broke, resulting in both myself, colleagues and students having to wear coats in lessons (a big no-no in terms of the school uniform policy), and in some cases, I would also teach wearing gloves (an even bigger no-no). Conversely, during the warmer months, the classrooms heated up like greenhouses even with the windows and doors wide open. And you can probably imagine what a sweltering room smells like with the added potency or should I say the pungency of a bunch of teenagers!
Unfortunately, the state of crappy classrooms is nothing new. My own experiences were almost a mirror image of those I describe above but took place 20 years earlier. So I read with interest and dismay last week in the British press about the state of many school buildings that are “crumbling into disrepair” whilst money is being diverted into other projects such as the free school program. Money that is being invested into shiny new buildings or to convert brownfield sites to accommodate students, whilst existing local authorities and schools struggle to plug those leaky roofs and move students out of temporary classrooms.
I know my own experiences are only anecdotal and a building does not necessarily make an education, but it can help. It can encourage students to feel positive about their learning if the environment has some semblance of being cared for and valued, and it can allow teachers to focus on actually teaching, instead of adjusting the thermostat or their coat every few minutes.
- The Guardian: Government spending billions on free schools whilst existing schools crumble (22/02/17)