[Joanne Jacobs (guest-blogging), December 5, 2006 at 5:45pm] Trackbacks
Of mice and mold

In response to an American Federation of Teachers' campaign, Build It Up, teacher-bloggers are writing about physical conditions of their classrooms and school buildings.

Ms. Cornelius writes of mice and mold.

They put flat roofs on buildings in areas that get a goodly amount of snow and rain, then wonder why the roof leaks. Idiocy. It may have been cheaper in the beginning, but I guarantee it has cost more in upkeep over the years to repair the leaks. I once had a room that leaked so badly I had to cover my computer with a tarp when I went home at night. It leaked so badly that we had an actual waterfall flowing down the wall. It leaked so badly that one of the ceiling tiles completely disintegrated overnight, and walked in in the morning to find a sodden pile of pulp and rivulets of water extending all the way to the wall. It took 8 years to get it fixed.

A San Jose teacher, Mr. AB, teaches in a well-built school -- except it's impossible to lock classroom doors from the inside. Teachers at his school spent two hours practicing for a "Code Red." On police advice, they tried to build barricades to block their classroom doors.

During the drill, my best efforts at a barricade took many minutes to set up and only slowed the intruder by a matter of moments. We simply don't have enough time and enough heavy objects to really seal off a door without locks.

Mr. AB suggested "a set of deadbolts on each door, requiring a teacher's key to lock from the inside and a safe-secured key to unlock from without." Sure, it's paranoid, he writes. But if the Amish can be attacked by a homicidal nut, who's safe?

I've seen children learn in third-rate facilities. In the first years of the charter school I write about in my book, Our School, students learned biology in the multipurpose room, which also was used as the reading room, assembly room and cafeteria. There was no lab equipment of any kind, though the nearby kitchen had a sink. When teachers met with small advisory groups, some had to meet in the halls. Counselors talked to students outside; there was no private place to have a conversation inside. The outside lunch and recreation area was a driveway that had been blocked off.

There were no locks on the doors because most classrooms didn't have doors or walls: Space in an old church and a former fitness center was blocked off with dividers or curtains. Students who had trouble paying attention in the first place had to learn to focus on their own class and ignore the very audible activities in the class on the other side of the curtain.

The charter school was skimping on facilities to spend more on teaching and counseling students. Teachers didn't feel neglected. Students grumbled about setting up and taking down the lunch tables each day, but the shared adversity became a point of pride.

Of course, if school leaders, teachers and students don't believe they're working together to fulfill a mission, then mold, mice, leaks and unlockable doors become a sign that nobody cares.