The Cramping of Classrooms

April 25, 2018

The frantic scrambling to get from one class to another is not exclusive to Los Altos students. Due to the sheer number of students at Los Altos and limited space, many teachers must share classrooms.

Just as students must find a work schedule that suits them, teachers must also optimize their time and resources. Although it may appear to students that teachers begin and end each day with classes, the amount of behind-the-scenes work that goes into creating lesson plans and grading papers is often overlooked. English teacher and New Media Literacy Adviser Robert Barker says that his day begins three hours before the school day and extends an hour after school. Weekends are also packed with 5 to 12 hours of work.

“Most English teachers will tell you that grading papers is kind of its own special beast and requires a lot more time and mental energy than a lot of other assessments do,” Barker said. “Teachers are trying to prioritize planning versus grading… We have to make a kind of deal-with-the-devil decision, where I know it’s going to be frustrating for [students] to wait to get their papers back, but I’d rather not have a half-assed lesson today, to be fully prepared and have meaningful work get done today. That is a source of constant stress for English teachers.”

This arrangement of necessity does have some advantages. Social studies teacher Sarah Carlson says that there are benefits to sharing a workspace — teachers can see how other teachers introduce lessons, giving them inspiration for their own instruction and lesson plans.

“Last year when [social studies teacher Alex Willse] was teaching in this room, there were some positive impacts, because I got to see him put a different spin on [lessons] than I might of, and I think, ‘Oh, maybe I could try something new, we can learn from each other.’” Carlson said.

Still, social studies teacher Chelsea Doiguchi and other teachers believe that the shared classroom arrangement presents difficulties — the shared workspace affects their concentration and significantly reduces their work time during prep periods.

“It is really important to me to have a classroom to work in and host meetings in,” Doiguchi said. “It is a home base for students to be able to find me if they need to talk to me or make up work. It is somewhat difficult to share with other teachers because I don’t want to make my colleague feel uncomfortable while he is teaching if I need to stay and do a few things.”

Incorporating more teacher workspaces in the Student Union building, which is currently being planned, would offer a viable solution to the shortage of teacher workspace currently available on campus, Assistant Principal Galen Rosenberg said.

“There’s nowhere here on campus that’s designed for teachers to work together,” Rosenberg said. “So they end up going to classrooms, finding spaces, but they’re not designed for that. So when we talk about building the new building, there’s this debate about how we structure that. We should create a kind of space where teachers can work privately without getting distracted, or work with a group of colleagues because that’s what we really need.”

Some teachers, like Chinese teacher Connie Chen, agree that this would ease the situation of sharing a classroom. She is currently in her second year of sharing room 923 with Chinese teacher Xiaojie Li, and she has expressed how challenging it is to find a good workspace at school. However, Chen believes that one new teacher workplace wouldn’t solve all of the problems.

“Currently, I have to stuff everything in my bag and walk all the way to the library from the 900 building, then back to the classroom for lunch, then to the library again,” Chen said. “Perhaps adding another [common workspace] in the back of the campus [would work]. The school should also make sure that teachers are comfortable [having] each other in the room when the other is teaching. We’re short on classrooms so every teacher needs to be more accommodating.” 

I have to stuff everything in my bag and walk all the way to the library from the 900 building, then back to the classroom for lunch, then to the library again.”

— Chinese teacher Connie Chen

Both Barker and Carlson expressed the sentiment that having additional workspaces on campus — such as the workspace that is currently provided in the teacher’s lounge — can be helpful. However, it just isn’t practical due to their hectic schedules.

“It’s not convenient because the pace of our workday doesn’t afford us the time and luxury to even move from one place on campus to another and get situated and start to work,” Barker said. “Five minutes in this setting has a lot of value… so I don’t have five minutes to spare. And then when I get to that setting, that’s not my ideal setting to work, I would prefer to stay where I am.”

And while Barker recognizes that adding more teacher workspace on campus could be a possible solution, he believes that we shouldn’t overlook the larger issue of classroom shortages.

“What if I want to put handouts on the table, or get something up on the board ready for people?” Barker said. “I’m in a position now where I have to frantically come plug my stuff in, and unplug the other stuff, and throw my things on the computer, and the bell is ringing, and everyone’s filtered in. That’s stressful. I’m certainly against normalizing the sharing of classrooms.”

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