The average teacher costs a school around £35,000 each year. So over the course of a 40 year career (I know that sounds unlikely, that’s the length of time from qualification to retirement) the average teacher costs £1.4m. That’s a lot of money so you’d think that schools would also spend a fair amount supporting that teacher to do their job as well as possible. And indeed its possible to look at all the other things schools spend money on and say job done.
Personally I’m not convinced. Particularly when it comes to the room where the teacher works, the classroom. Having been back in the classroom for a whole two terms now I feel more than qualified to impose on you my idea of what a classroom should be. It’s an idealised view, but one I think we should work towards. Also, for complete clarity, I’m talking about a secondary classroom, primarily of my own subject, mathematics. I know nothing about how a primary classroom should be .
Currently I teach in a room that has windows on two sides. This is a nightmare for three main reasons. One, its really difficult not to have students next to the windows. Secondly its really hot when the sun shines. Thirdly its too bright for most LCD projectors to cope.
So first the ideal layout.
There should be just one wall where there are windows. Ideally this should be at the back of the room, behind the students. The door to the room should either be on this wall or on one of the side walls towards the back of the room. The teaching wall should be unencumbered with doors, windows, cupboards, fire alarms, notice boards etc, etc, etc. If this wall has to have the door in it then it needs to be exactly in the corner, not any way along the wall. The desk used by the teacher should be in a corner, leaving enough room for the teacher to get behind the desk without contortion.
There should be carpet and any sound baffles that are required to ensure everyone in the room can be heard when required.
By now I can already hear you screaming. Yes, I know this rules out most existing classrooms (especially the door bit) but this is an ideal. Where we should work towards. Bear with me.
Ok, the windows. The windows should not open. Well, they should, but only if the teacher wants them to. So, electrically operated slats near the top should do, for air if needed (and also please bear with me on the electricity). Now for the clever bit. The windows must use smart glass. Smart glass is that stuff that changes from clear to opaque at the touch of a button. It’s not cheap, maybe three to four times the cost of standard glass, but from a learning point of view its cheaper than having to pull down blinds that flap all over the place and break soon as Justin in year 9 so much as looks at them. When I want students to see the projected image on the screen, I want to be able to just flick a switch.
I WANT AIR-CON.
There, I’ve said it. The school where I’m governor, the new block we recently built has air-con in the classrooms. Obviously, no-one now likes the maths teachers who now teach there but having been in the rooms I now consider it an essential. And yes, I can still hear you muttering “electricity, electricity”. I promise, I’ll get to it.
The desks. There has to be enough room for 16 two person desks. Not young-children from the 60’s sized desks. Proper 21stcentury sized teenagers. The room needs to be big enough to arrange the desks from individually with space for the teacher to circulate, up to four groups of four desks for evil teachers who like to inflict groupwork on unsuspecting children. The desks should have white dry-wipe surfaces. With sturdy chairs. Preferably ones that inflict a slight, but definitely unbearable electric shock when sat on with only two legs on the floor.
Cupboard space can be either built in along the side or be an integral part of the teaching wall.
Okay, the teaching wall. Yes, it should be a wall. Not a board or boards, but a wall. If I want to delineate areas I’ll do so with plastic removable tape. I don’t want an interactive board, just a surface that can be projected on. If there has to be an interactive board (for multi-use rooms), then it should be embedded with no noticeable borders between it and the drywipe surface around it (which means the surface has to be wipe-able). The wall should also preferably be magnetic in case I do want to affix notices to it.
The projector should be short throw and as silent as possible.
The teachers desk should have sufficient space to mark on, with any PC built in with the (large) screen on a push away arm. All the relevant connection gubbins should be available for anyone who uses a laptop.
Important point – if you can see any wires then it’s a fail.
Ok, the electricity. Solar panels. Any electric consumption required by the room should be offset by adding PV cells to the school. There, told you I’d deal with the electricity issue.
What’s it all going to cost? Well, that depends. In a new build, a fairly small additional percentage of the cost of the build. In an existing room? Obviously many of my proposals won’t be possible in smaller rooms or rooms with doors in stupid places. But I see no reason why many spaces can’t be re-engineered to at least improve the windows and teaching wall (particularly the issue of wiring which in many schools is frankly an embarrassment).
Overall, in terms of the lifetime cost of a teacher the lifetime cost of the changes I’ve suggested are ridiculously small. Of course, in the current financial climate many of these changes are impossible. But that is no reason not to work towards them. It is no good using any additional funding to end up having the best paid teaching profession in the world if we are all teaching in portacabins.
They say a bad workman blames his tools, but I see many great teachers having to work in conditions that are restricting them. Improving these workspaces should become a priority. I know if you suddenly get a £1m windfall in your budgets you’re probably going to spend it on fixing the roof or other such priorities, but I think we should stop thinking of schools as places full of spartan spaces, where we just spend enough to get by. Lets be bold and demand better working spaces.