April 13, 2015

Eight months of thoughts

I've been living in the new Princeton High School (at 100 Viking Way, a far more poetic and inherently false address than the old 11080 Chester Rd), and I have a few thoughts.

Those pics up there are of my classroom. I'll start with the things I really like.
  • Huge, bright windows...there is natural light all over the school, and even the rooms without windows (those in the center of the wings) are only a step to the doorway to see natural light down the hall of across the way. It's been a revelation to me how much I had missed the joy of natural light. with those thirteen years in the dark, windowless dank of 519.
  • Plants...I've added in my own plants hanging in the windows, and I love 'em.
  • Storage...I have empty cabinets all over the room, especially the low cabinets. Not every classroom teacher would say the same, though. It's pretty much just the science rooms that have tons of storage cabinets. 
  • Counter tops...the science rooms also have a whole bunch of counter top space. And, as far as I can tell, they're solid epoxy all the way through. Admittedly, I haven't taken that full core sample to know for certain just yet, but that'll come someday.
  • The doorway...The doorway has nice, deep shelving on which I've put a bunch of classroom toys. My students generally leave the toys alone, fiddling on rare occasions and mostly at the beginning of the year. I's a nice replacement for - and actually an improvement on - the shelves on the front of my desk in 519.
Things that I'm okay with but that aren't perfect...
  • The chairs...I was - and most staffers I know were - pretty leery about the rolling, spinning chairs. Turns out that they're not really a problem for about 99% of the students. I do have a student with some physical challenges who needs a non-rolling chair. You can see her chair currently sitting in the back of the room. It gets swapped in for her bell. The rest of my students are fine in the chairs. I do know of another teacher who has mentioned that a couple of her students wander more than she would like them to.
  • Three of my classroom's walls are painted cement block. The fourth - the one against the back storage room -  is painted drywall. We're currently not allowed to hang anything on the walls - even though flyers are hanging on the walls in the hallway. Because of that rule, I have my posters literally hanging from the ceiling (thanks, Lucas). That's annoying but workable, and I'm pretty sure that rule won't be noticed after another year or so. 
  • The white boards...I have one large white board up front, and I'm supposed to have two portable white boards in the back. The back white boards are removable from the walls, so I can kind of use both sides. I did, admittedly, take one extra, large, portable white board from the think tank (more on that in a few pics) from the end of the hall. That's kind of necessary for my front spacing.
And things about which I am less than thrilled...
  • Counter top heights...the labs benches are designed for people to perform the labs while sitting down (or while they're standing up and about four and a half feet tall. That might be okay for biology labs, most of which are performed sitting down. Chemistry labs, though, are performed while standing, and I want the countertops to be between six inches and a foot higher up. I may be getting rid of all the stools under the counters so as not to encourage the whole standing thing.
  • The Smart TV...what would be half of my front board space is taken up by a Smart TV. The TV is big and bright and somewhat useful (admittedly, I don't use the Smart TV as well as I could, admittedly.) The issue with the TV is that it's technically portable meaning it's on a stand that sticks out about three feet and blocks my desk chair from being mobile. With the permanent lab benches and display table up front, there's no way I can roll the TV around anywhere, especially since it's tethered to my computer by a twenty-foot cord. Yes, the computer is a portable laptop, but that's a pain to disconnect, too.
  • The built-in ring stands...Each lab bench has four permanent holes to hold large ring stands. The ring stands are too wide for any of the rings that we would use in class, so they're useless. The ring stand holes, then, are just in the way of any experiments that we would like to do, decreasing the usable lab bench space for experiments.
  • The placement of soap and paper towels...Both are placed just off-center enough from the wall behind the lab benches that they're awkward for somebody to reach from one side of the bench of the other. The soap is also designed in a way that the soap drips onto the counter top.
  • Gas jets...The gas jets are placed right in front of the water faucet handles meaning that lots of times the gas handles are grabbed by mistake instead of the faucet handles. That's far too many times that the gas is turned on by mistake for my tastes. Instead the jets should be placed to the side of the handles, toward the ends of the benches. It would have been a simple change that would have eliminated a number of minor issues. 
  • The number of seats...I have seats and desks for twenty-four, but I've had three classes with more students than that. To accommodate those folks, I've had to put students at the lab desks. Because I run experiments and labs so frequently in material science - taking place right before two of those classes - I have to spend my lunch hour cleaning up those labs so students have safe places to sit. That is a combined flaw/conflict between the design of the room and the scheduling into the room.

The storage room, same order...things I like...
  • Windows...same idea, there's light all over the place, and I love that.
  • Storage...lots of storage space all around, high, low, tall cabinets, drawers, whatever.
  • Appliances...refrigerator and freezer that work, dishwasher that - after eight months - seems to be working for the first time. 
 Okay but not perfect...
  • Drying rack...we need more of them, but the one's a decent start.
Don't so much like
  • Slobs...Mr Studer and I are both pretty slovenly. We also run a ton of labs among all our classes, so there's always something being set up or torn down. And often, they're labs that we're going to reuse soon (and that students missed and have to make up), so we often have labs in a perpetual state of not quite cleaned up.
 From here forward, it's mostly just single thoughts about images not the full three-part monty...

That's a photo of the tech hubs, three identical spaces upstairs and three downstairs around the perimeter of the library. They aren't assigned to anyone, and they're not necessarily supervised by anyone. My classes have used them a few times as I won't let my students eat in the classroom even though I do give them home-baked brownies or cookies as an incentive for good behavior. The walls for the tech hubs are supposed to have collages of Princeton photos throughout the decades (some of which I helped choose), but that hasn't come to pass.

I don't know that anyone is particularly happy with these spaces. They aren't private enough for some of the conversations that I hear going on there. They aren't spacious enough for the meetings that are sometimes held there. They're the El Camino of the school, the Brat of our spaces.

The 2000 hallways around the upstairs of the library have three nearly floor-to-ceiling bulletin boards on which the art department hangs student artwork. I love seeing those on a daily basis and even switch up my route to my classroom in order to see the boards as they get changed. The second photo is of my favorite piece on the walls this week.

The top photo there is of the library balcony and of my five plants on that balcony. Lucas and Topher have been great this year about watering the plants for me. I enjoy having the plants there on the balcony where I - and the rest of the school - can see them. I even had another staff member tell me he wondered how much the school spent on those plants because they had to have been pricey before I told him that the plants were really mine.

The balcony itself has been a beautiful space, and I hope the art department folks are able to use it appropriately. Sadly, though, the high ceiling in the library has made our staff meetings frustratingly hard to hear and understand. I like the physical space of the library, but I can't stand its acoustics.

The plexiglass display cases overlooking the library, seen in the second photo have been disappointing. They have such promise, but their location something like twenty feet off of the ground make them hard to use appropriately. I do have a plan to use them for my own entertainment, however, but I'll keep that for myself for the time being.

That's a photo of a non-science classroom down the hall from mine. Notice the near-total lack of storage. Because of their more open layout, however, they do have more flexibility in placement of their desks. I don't know if that's a fair trade-off.

The plans for the building originally called for three staff lounges/work rooms like the one you see above. One is in my hallway about a door down. The others are in the 900 hallway and the 2100 hallway, two upstairs and one down, one in each of the building's three wings. It's a convenient set-up for me and for the people in those hallways, but it's far less convenient for the teachers in the hallways (1100, 1200, 2900) without a lounge. For this year, at least, the workroom in the 2100 hallway being occupied as a special education 'classroom' making things even less convenient.

I like having the community space, something we were sorely lacking in the old building. I haven't found myself eating lunch with the other staffers in that room yet, but I think that's something that I'm going to make a goal for next year. My schedule for this year hasn't been too conducive as I've had to clean up a whole lot of material science lab experiments during my lunch time.

The top one is the hallway across from my room. The bottom is the hallway outside my room, an alcove shared by me and my neighbor-for-life, Doug Studer. I do like having my door recessed from the hallway as it lets us supervise without intruding on the hall, without taking up space and crowding the hallway further. I do wish, however, that we had a pillar like the folks across the way do. I always feel like I'm crowding my students when I post up at the doorway, and the center of the alcove doesn't have anywhere to stand.

That's the other end of my hallway from the tech hubs. That's a think tank with a table from the old school, six chairs, a television on the wall, and floor-to-ceiling windows. I have no idea how this space - or the five other spaces like it - are used in the least. They're unsupervisable from anywhere but the endcap rooms. I've put students there to wait out while we go over tests, but they are entirely and totally blind from me. I would certainly never put a students there to take a quiz or test. It's my hope that they'll wall those rooms off and turn them into rooms for intervention specialists. I remember on our tour back during exam week in January 2014 that one of the assistant principals predicted that they would be grade-level offices without five years. She might've been right about that, too.

That's the endcap room in my 2200 wing hallway. This year it's being used by two teachers in a really awkward split between ASL and Spanish. Hopefully next year we'll find better uses for those rooms. Currently they're music (two), health, tech ed (two), and the aforementioned split. The two music rooms should be freed up with the new music spaces in Viking Village (the center area between PHS and PCMS). I don't think we really have anywhere for the tech teachers to go (a sore spot for the tech department, certainly). I'm hoping we find a place for the health and ASL/Spanish teachers, too. If we can't, I'll be further disappointed in the design of the building - built for fewer teachers than we had back then (and than we might have if the proposed state budget does really cut our $16 million in funding from Tangible Personal Property tax replacement.)

Ok, I admit that I don't understand that space at all, not in the least. I don't know what's supposed to be behind that wall. I've asked the principal what was supposed to be there, but he wasn't around during the design, either. I really should ask the outgoing principal what he had envisioned for that space.

That's the end of my wing of the building. The grass is awful and swampy and doomed to die. I'm hopeful that it takes better root this summer. I do understand that construction might not have allowed for that last summer. Wonder if anybody is going to take care of that going forward.

That's the door through which I enter most every school morning. I do absolutely dig the fact that I have 24-7 access to the building now with my ID. That might be my favorite thing about the new building.

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