I am the director of an after-school and summer program for my school district. We house our program in classrooms in a specified area of the building. During the school day, teachers occupy those rooms. Teachers can be a fickle and possessive group of people. If you give a teacher something, don’t expect it back. It’ll never happen. Many teachers take possession literally; even items that are community items. If you put a laptop cart in a teacher’s classroom, it magically becomes their laptop cart. If you assign a set of textbooks to a teacher, those become that teacher’s textbooks. Teachers will possess whatever is under their “authority” if they think they can. Part of that is because they get limited quality resources and many items they bring is paid with their own money – never to be reimbursed. It is also because teachers are blamed when items are damaged, whether they are personally responsible or not. Also, administrators over emphasize making classrooms look inviting and engaging, which translates to looking junkie and disorganized in a practical sense… funny how that works.
For the most part, teachers have been cool with our program occupying their space. Some teachers have asked us not to use their classrooms. I’ve honored their request out of courtesy and because I understand as a former teacher the desire to secure your classroom. But I have the license to request the rooms that I need. Nevertheless, I try to work with folks. This year our program was moved to a different wing of the building, which sucks because now another set of teachers has to get acclimated to us occupying their space. Thankfully, no resistance… that is until this one day.
We occupy two classrooms daily but we have access to four rooms. One room we never use because there is not enough space and on this particular day, two of the rooms were occupied for PLC Meetings. I occupied the next available room. Unfortunately, the teacher who occupied it wasn’t around and at the time, I needed to get my kids out of the hallway. Well, once that teacher arrived, she was not happy with my group of kids or with my staff. The next day, she approached me, a little less theatrical. We discussed the situation and I guess she was looking for an apology and she didn’t get it. She probably was more annoyed that I pushed back on her unrighteous indignation. Nevertheless, I cut the conversation short because my kids were getting out of hand and they needed my attention. But I was taken aback by the tone and accusatory manner that this teacher took, but since there were children around, I tried to be careful – two adults arguing isn’t good optics. However, she clearly needs a refresher course in “You Do Not Own Room C324.”
If you are like the teacher from room C324, please don’t be that teacher any longer. If you are afraid of people using your room and destroying all that is sacred, pay attention to these action steps. They may be able to help you:
- You do not own the classroom you use. You have been assigned a room location… it’s not your birthright. It is common space. The school district where you work owns the classroom they’ve hired you to work in. It is a workspace, not a home away from home.
- Request with your administrator in writing that your room is not used. This is no guarantee, however, at least if you make a written request, you have evidence of your desire to not have anyone using your room without your presence – if the worse happens, you can refer to your request and denial as evidence of trying to prevent the worse from happening again.
- Lock up all sensitive materials prior to leaving. You’re asking for trouble if you have sensitive materials i.e. grades, IEP’s or 504 plans out in plain view and you depart the room. For any reason, anyone can enter the room you occupy. Sure, maybe they should ask to enter but they wouldn’t have to if you were there. If that sensitive material was compromised in any way, both YOU (who mishandled) and the person who viewed or misused the material would be reprimanded.
- Request a cabinet of some sort to lock your important items in if the room will be used regularly. The least administration can do is help you in this regard; if you have sensitive items in your room that cannot leave the school. If the administration will not, do not keep your items in the classroom and do not worry about the school’s items of importance in a classroom they choose not to secure.
- Locking your door won’t keep people out. You’re not the only one with a key. Administrators aren’t the only one with master keys. So make sure that anything you don’t want to be compromised is either locked up or with you when you leave.
- Maintain a list of individuals banned from your room in your absence. If there are students who have violated your rules, stolen something or has inappropriately viewed private information, make a list of those students or adults and deliver that information to your administrator. If they do not care to keep that individual from your room when you’re not around, unfortunately, you will have to remove anything you do not want that student finding. If those items include school property that cannot be removed, let the school be concerned with it if stolen or destroyed.
- If you find out that people were in your room or you walk into your room to find people (children) in it, don’t have a hissy fit. Don’t do that because you might create more trouble for yourself. Simply calm your nerves and regain both control of yourself and the classroom. Get the occupiers on the same page and handle your business in the moment and in the case that it happens again… because it probably will.
- Write a list of rules for people using the classroom in your absence. This is probably the easiest and most effective thing you can do to ensure the order you are striving so hard to maintain. Email these rules to your administration… they shouldn’t have a problem… unless you’re being unreasonable.
I don’t mean to sound harsh, however, there are some realities that teachers must come to grips with. One such reality is that the classroom space you occupy is temporary. Ownership rights have not been extended to you. I understand that your personal and private items go into making your classroom an extension of yourself and when entered without permission or notice, it feels like a violation. However, your room is part of a shared community. Be prepared to share it with or without notice; whether you like it or not.
Let’s continue to press towards the mark!