A Tour of my Last Classroom

For any of you who ever taught with me, you know that my classroom was lovely. It was print rich. Student work was displayed. A gallery-esque collection of relics from my travels around the world hung on my walls. I spent days setting it up each fall, precariously balancing on the tips of unsteady desks into the evening to have it ready for the students on day one of class. Each June my students helped me dismantle it, and when the walls were barren and the institutional colors of barf and dread were visible, they told me–again and again–how depressing it was.

I would like to say that I did it all for the students, but if you have been to my apartment or any space I have ever lived in since I was a tween, you know that I am meticulous about all of my spaces. I like things to be pretty, organized, and thoughtful. I like art, objects that tell stories, and color. I curate my walls, shelves, books, and colors with great thought (according to my husband, too much thought!). I did create my classroom for my students, but I also did it for myself. Each and every classroom I had–from the shitty and neglected Home Economics room that I was assigned in Bushwick to the 10 years spent in two classrooms at Cobble Hill–was a home of mine and an extension of me. And, being a veritable Cancer, I am very particular about my homes.

I no longer have a classroom to decorate. I would like to say that I miss it, but I don’t. Not at all. It was so much work. So. much. WORK! And while I was always proud of my classrooms, I have been very happy to leave that behind in my transition from teaching high school to teaching college.

I got my  iphone the February of my last year of teaching high school. Lately, when I try to take pictures it tells me I have no more data space. That might be because I have over a 1,000 photos on my phone. I was just sifting through my pictures, trying to edit them down, when I came upon the photos I took of my last classroom. At the time I didn’t know it would be my last classroom. I had applied for two jobs, one at one of the best high schools in New York City (Brooklyn Tech) and one for my current job at The New Community College, but I had not heard from either. For some reason I took photos of that classroom, and I am so glad I did.

Here’s a walking tour of my last classroom:

Looking at the classroom door and moving to the right: A print of Mount Fuji I got on the Fulbright Memorial Fund teacher travel program to Japan in the Summer of 2004. Great quote on immigration on the yellow paper (which I have forgotten), and a pretty symbolic gesture that the great quote is covered up by chart paper that teaches test prep strategies of annotating the story and answering multiple choice questions for the English Regents Exam. That two-drawer file cabinet was full of student writing portfolios (a topic for another post). Late log on the file cabinet. I hated that damn late log.

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I have always been a very transparent grader therefore the grading policy and what each grade looks like have always been clearly posted in my classroom. What is written on the white board is how I got kids reading years below grade level to pass the English Regents–template, memorization, template, memorization. Critical thinking? Any thinking? Fuggetaboutit. To the right of the white board, that little poster corner was a favorite of mine: Faith Ringold’s Freedom of Speech poster (from the Met), a copy of a Felix Gonzalez Torres Untitled (Death by Gun) piece I got in NYC during the summer of 1999 when I moved here, and a typical teacher store poster of the Bill of Rights. Oh, and the desks in small groups–of course!

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Fabrics on the wall in this photo are from West Africa. I loved the bird: Sankofa, the symbol of looking backwards to your past while moving forwards in life.  My crappy classroom library organized by genre for independent reading next to an entire bookcase of test prep books and materials. Those folders on the walls–what were they called?–some sort of extension activity that could be added to any lesson for the students who finished early in order to demonstrate my ability to differentiate for the higher level students. (As if the students would do any of those activities. If they did any extra work, they would either read or do homework for another class, but that was one of those CYA–cover your ass–systems that I had so that I could say it was there even if it never, ever got used. Smoke and mirrors, my friends.). My bulletin board was always bordered by my postcard collection that I had started in high school (I still have them!) and had a U.S. map and a World map to situate the texts we read geographically and because I adore maps. Student work posted on the bulletin board. Poster on active reading strategies (annotation strategies) on the wall for constant reference.

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Afrique fabric/map I also got in West Africa (love that one). Elephant fabric from India; it has tiny pieces of mirror in it that sold me. Bell schedules posted because the students never seemed to know what time class started or ended on any day of the week. American Dream brainstorm from the beginning of the year for reference. Laptop cart monster.

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File cabinet filled with old magazines from the school library for character collages/projects that were creative and much needed when the students were beyond burnt out or antsy before a vacation. Posters on the window that listed the Historical Connections for each Unit that had been taught in that spring: The last unit was The American Dystopia and we read The Hunger Games. It was awesome. Our year-long exploration was on the concept of The American Dream. This was 11th grade American Literature with a strong, strong, strong connection to U.S. History content. The 11th graders took the Regents Exams in both English and U.S. History and there was a mandated correlation, mostly to bolster their U.S. History scores (our English scores were always surprisingly decent in comparison to the other exams).

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Close up (kinda) of the Historical Connections charts.

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During the second unit on War, I used Socratic Seminar as a weekly activity to try to get the students to work on their academic language. They had to speak using these prompts each time we had a Socratic Seminar. To do Socratic Seminar in your class, read my post here. It took a few weeks for them to get into it, but then it ran itself and was actually pretty amazing. (Oh, and note the scaffolding outside my window. I worked in a historically landmarked building, therefore I worked under scaffolding about half of the 10 years there. Ugh…)

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Literary Elements and Literary Techniques–key components of the English Regents Exam–posted for constant referral. And my locker! My plant! I gave the plant to our school’s APO (Assistant Principal of Organization) who has a great green thumb. My student teacher and a colleague got me the Dr. L (because they didn’t have a U) after I defended my dissertation (Thanks Diana and Akua!). My favorites here are: The black sheet of paper on the big locker was from a New York City Teaching Fellows calendar they gave all the Fellows one year. I ripped out and kept their first and best advertising slogan that read: Do you believe all NYC students deserve a great education? Prove it. Another favorite: If you look towards the big white pole in the right hand side below it you’ll see a toy action figure of The Rock being hanged. That was a final project for The Crucible, a John Proctor hanging from a scaffold built by a student of mine, Anthony (Last Name?) my first year teaching high school at Cobble. Another favorite: To the left of John Proctor hanging, you’ll see a weird white round paper mache thing–that’s my 9 month pregnant belly that the students plastered in Art class the last day of school in 2007–my almost 6 year old daughter Alexandra!

Wow–some good memories there.

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My NC license plate was from the car I sold to rent my first apartment in NYC. The wireless internet box (although wireless never worked) was the perch for a Buddha and a Ganesha when I needed a moment of serenity now. See the Timeline of American History? I had to re-learn all that stuff to teach it with a modicum of accuracy.

Every day my board had to have on it: date, names of teachers (I taught many inclusion classes with Special Education push-in teachers, hence the three names), the lesson topic, the TP (Teaching Point, which had to be aligned to the Common Core Standards, and this was in 2010-2011), and the agenda of the lesson. See, as I said in my last post here, I did have the countdown on my board! (In case you ever doubt my honesty…) In the crate I kept all my extra handouts for the students who were always absent and a clipboard for our daily attendance bubble sheets. You’ll see a timer on my computer to pace my lessons and three shelves with folders of student work to hand back. (Systems, systems, systems!!!!!) Oh, and yes, please note the gigantic cup of coffee on my desk which was always present.

Did I blog about this? To the left, you’ll see the extra door that I had in this classroom. Two exit strategies. Sad, but when I moved into this classroom  (from the classroom next door), I was thrilled to have a second escape in case of a school shooting. Wtf, world?

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Next to my computer there was a a wire bin that clearly said, “TURN WORK IN HERE” for homework/classwork/exit slips. And my beloved Smartboard, above which hung a cartoon of The Hero’s Journey, a prayer flag from Bhutan, and a fabric painting given to me by a co-worker from when she visited her homeland, Palestine.

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And thus concludes our tour.

When I left Cobble Hill, I gave my friends much of my good classroom decorations. Just last week, I got lunch with Jess and Deborah, two incredible teachers who continue fighting the good fight there. We went back to Deborah’s classroom and on her walls I saw my favorite Faith Ringold poster and my Felix Gonzalez Torres poster. It felt like a piece of me lived on there, that a tiny ghost of Lori still floated around the spaces of the Cobble Hill School of American Studies through the scattered pieces of my once carefully curated classroom.

It made me very happy.

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