Posts Tagged ‘College Classrooms’

During my second-to-last class period of the semester, I was standing at the front of the classroom talking, as I often do during class, and the light above me went out. The power had not gone out. Nobody had inadvertently hit a light switch. Just one light, directly above my head, that decided it had had enough.

A few days later, when I arrived for my final class in the same course, the clock had stopped working. Its hands resting on the numbers indicating that class would start in ten minutes. The clock couldn’t stand the thought of even one more minute of class.

When I arrived for the final exam period this afternoon I began handing back an assignment from earlier in the semester when a student took a chair from the back of the classroom up to her usual spot. Looking around, I noticed that about eight chairs had decided to abandon their posts and wander off into a nearby alcove.

Professors often make jokes about students, but I appreciate the fact that despite our classroom’s insistence that the semester had ended, my students did not give in.

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There is a classroom near the sociology offices on my campus that I have done my best to avoid over the years. This semester, though, I’m teaching in it again and remembering all of the reasons that I have avoided it. For me, classrooms are something that I only really consider when they cause me problems. In this particular classroom, students sit closely to each other in rows of tables and the room is much deeper than it is wide. The projector screen leaves only about 12 inches of white board visible while blinding me if I am not standing at one of the edges of the room. If I walk between the tables to the back of the room, students facing the front are unable to turn to see and hear me because of how close together they are.

Other than being annoyed by my classroom, my students in this class are not doing particularly well. This classroom was also the site of my problems with first-year students several years ago. In fact, thinking back on my worst classes, each of them was also in a less-than-optimal classroom. Cramped quarters make it easier for students to get distracted but they also make it more difficult for students to form groups and for me to move around the classroom to check in on students doing individual or group tasks. Classrooms arranged in other ways (such as rooms featuring a large number of small tables that students sit around) make it more difficult for all students to be able to see me at the same time and see and hear each other during class discussions. I’m sure that my own mood is also affected by being in a classroom where my mobility is limited or where I am worried that students cannot hear or see me.

In the end, there isn’t much I can do about my classroom this semester, but I hope that those designing classrooms in the future, or remodeling current classrooms, put some serious thought into how they will be used and what sorts of designs are actually conducive to student learning. Just because a classroom can accommodate a widescreen projection screen and large tables doesn’t mean that it should.

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The intense thought that I put into arbitrary decisions when creating my syllabi does not prevent me from making (and dealing with) mistakes. This semester, for example, a mix-up between me, the campus bookstore, and a publisher led to me arriving in the classroom with a different version of the textbook than my students and, as a result, a syllabus listing the wrong page numbers for course readings. Last semester my small discussion-based class was assigned to one of the largest lecture halls on campus. Making matters worse was the fact that the seats were arranged stadium-style so that everybody had a good view of the front of the classroom but the students could not hear each other.

Nothing tops my experience when heading to teach my very first class as a graduate student, though. On that fall day I took the bus from my apartment to campus, transferring at the downtown station. I then made my way to my classroom, which was in the business building. I arrived suitably early and started preparing by getting out my notes and syllabi and logging into the computer system while students trickled in. Then, just before my class was scheduled to begin, a man walked in, thinking that it was actually his classroom. I asked him if he was sure he was in the right place and he said that he was. I asked the assembled students what class they were there to attend. All but two (out of approximately 70) said that they were there for this other man’s business course. Since I was logged into the computer I looked online and found that my classroom had been moved late in the summer from the computer building to the basement of the library, which was thankfully just across the street. Publicly revealed as idiots, my two students and I quickly made the walk to our actual classroom, where we arrived about ten minutes late. Thankfully, the students who had gone to the right place to begin with were there waiting for us. There’s nothing like a humbling experience on your first day in a position of authority!

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