Sunday, June 24, 2012

An Empty Room: Thing of Beauty #52-101

With all the transition and uncertainty in my happy little world, it’s been hard for me to find things of beauty to add to the list lately (Exploring Beauty Challenge via relia) I’ve seen lots of beautiful stuff – gardens, butterflies, kisses from little kids, a few bucks from the grown ups as an end of year “tip,” wading pools, blue skies, leafy trees, a thriving son, new friendships, the love and support of old friends, an encouraging family, the falcons circling the tower, air conditioning, cookies and ice cream, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera – and I’m grateful to be surrounded by an abundance of simple pleasures.  It’s hard to appreciate, though when you’re spiritually unsettled.  So I’m trying to embrace being unsettled as a time that may be uncomfortable in some respects but is filled with potential and possibility.

Hence, the empty room.  Last week, I focused on laying out my new classroom so I could start the process of creating a place for everything.  It will be a while before everything’s in its place, but that’s okay because I had a rough idea of where it would go in the fall.  I even had an adequate budget to order new furniture, like sturdy shelves for the house corner, and I was able to request that the engineering department install a couple of new electrical outlets and paint all the bulletin boards hunter green so there will be a unified pallet on the walls.  I like bulletin boards to be dark so that the kids’ artwork can go straight on the bulletin board without getting lost in a sea of white.

Let me pause a moment to acknowledge that having resources is definitely a thing of beauty.   I’m pretty sure I’ve said that before, but it bears repeating again and again, so Having Resources is Thing of Beauty #52A – 101.   Resources like money are important, but so are resources like ideas, creativity, a vision, and a sense of personal style.  Even with an abundance of resources, you still need a physical space to implement your ideas whether that’s a blank canvas, a sheet of paper or a big, empty room.

I went to work on Friday intending to finish storing a few items I had left out in the classroom so that the guys could move everything out of the room and wax the floors.  When I got there, everything was out in the hall already.  They moved the desk out with my legal pad and ball point pen right on top of it.  So I took pictures.  Now I can document the evolution of this new space and describe the process which is so cool that I’m going to call it Thing of Beauty #53 – 101.

Here’s my stuff in the hall:

The big, green chair where the teachers occasionally relax.  In the beginning of the year, we sit in it with crying kids who are learning that grown ups may go away, but they always come back.  Mostly, anyway, but they have time enough to learn about life’s disappointments.  I like to place the chair somewhere where I can see everything that’s happening in the room and also use it as the teacher chair during circle time.  It’s a great chair for lots of reasons.

The wooden cabinet was in the school office for a long time and belonged to a woman who was crazy as hell, but I loved her a lot and she made good coffee.  I like to have things around me that belonged to people I loved.  This year, the chair will still be in the circle area, but instead of being by the classroom door, the cabinet will go in a space I’m calling The Grown Up Zone.  This new room is so big that I can make a little sitting area and tell the kids that they can’t take the play dough in the living room.  I love to do that – especially when my art area is big enough for a dedicated clay table covered with canvas so we can have clay every day.  I think I’ll have red clay to match the sand I use in the sand table, which is called Jurassic Sand.  It’s really ground granite so it feels soft like silicone sand, but it doesn’t kick up a cloud of dust when the kids are playing.  They still get it all over the floor, but that’s why we have little brooms and dust pans. 

The hat rack will go in the grown up zone.

And so will this sofa which a family donated to the school.

And these chairs:

That big, white rectangle on the right is the easel.  It’s got room for six in a pinch, four comfortably, or two kids on one side with paint and a bunch on the other with magnets.  I love that easel.  For the record, nearly all my classroom furniture comes from Community Playthings.  It’s made by the Amish in Pennsylvania or Ohio and is so solid and well crafted that it’s guaranteed Forever (Thing of Beauty #54-101: Timeless Craftsmanship).  The chairs are sitting on two tables from Community Playthings, and these shelves and blocks are from Community Playthings, too.

This stuff is not.  It’s all the stuff I stuffed into the closet so they guys could wax the floor.

Here’s the floor:

The room is so long, I couldn’t fit a picture of the whole thing in the frame when I was standing by the windows.  So here’s one side – the blue door is the closet.  That mirror on the wall is really an observation window.  All the classrooms in the school have them, but we rarely use them anymore.  We use the observation rooms for storage.

Here’s the other.  The room extends a bit beyond the bathroom window on the right to the area near the chalk board in the area where the easel and tables will be.

Here’s a close up of the kitchen and one of the tile floor, with my toe on the side:

Here’s the bathroom.  It’s a two-holer.

And of course, we have a changing table.  It’s a good thing the kids are little, because it’s a little squishy using that sink.  They usually reach in from the side or go out into the kitchen.

I think of the area by the kitchen as the wet side of the room since it’s closest to the sink.  It’s where we’ll have all that messy stuff like paint, clay, glue, sand, the water table – and snack, which can get particularly messy with all that spilled juice.  Here’s the whole room from the wet side stretching to the dry side.  The far end is where the grown up zone will be.  The light table will go near the book cases.  The light table must be five feet long and three feet wide.  It’s lots of fun for lots of stuff, but I especially like to get some of those gels they use on theatre lights.  The way the colors show up in the light is cool, and you can layer those gels to mix colors.  Once the room is set up, I’ll take a picture to show what I’m talking about.

Here’s the whole room from the wet side:

I sat on the window sill to take that picture.  Then I looked out the window and took this one:

That’s Grant’s Tomb with the George Washington Bridge in the distance.  It was hazy, so you couldn’t see it very well.  Here’s the view straight out the window:

Here are the windows.

If you press your nose to the glass and look down, you can see Riverside Drive, but I didn’t try to take a picture of the street.  I took pictures of New Jersey.

Naturally, there’s some sort of fossil fuel tank.  Those things are everywhere.  Maybe one day, some kids will grow up and convince people to try alternatives.
We can hope.

In a perfect world, all children would have access to the sort of early childhood eduction provided at the school in the church where I work.  Maybe one day, we'll have a perfect world that doesn't look much like the world we live in today.  For now, I'm grateful to be part of an organization that provides this environment to those families that can afford it, and a few who cannot who are on financial aid.  I'm going to take this opportunity to toot my own horn because part of this early childhood experience is having an inspired Master Teacher like me and some down the hall and upstairs.  Not every teacher is inspired, and you have to have experience to be a master.  I never saw a criteria for Master Teachers, but my bosses say I am one and that's good enough for me.

There are great teachers everywhere.  I'm pretty sure none of us are paid for shit, and God knows plenty of us are getting pink slips every day because our leaders, and the plutocrats who pay them, think they are better off when the workers are not capable of critical thinking.  When you consider that Karl Rove and Dick Cheney were the Young Turks of the Nixon Administration, you can't see how those fellows take a very long view when it comes to making sure that another generation won't have the brains or the balls to stand up and say "Hell No, We Won't Go," or to take to the streets to demand equal Civil Rights and Social Justice for all.

This morning I was wishing we could all wake up and it would be the day before Ronald Reagan took office.  We would have an international Do-Over.  There would still be arguments and issues and all that stuff because we're a diverse people seeking to find common ground - and organizations like the John Birch Society, with the support of billionaires like the Koch family, had already been working methodically to take over the country one county election at a time.  All that media consolidation work was already underway before Reagan took office even though his administration introduced that shit, and Republican Lite Bill Clinton signed the damn thing.  When you consider that fewer than 300 corporate media executives control the flow of information to over 280 million people thanks to media deregulation - you can see how the Plutocrats, or The Owners as George Carlin always called them - maintain control in America.  A look at the education system shows how structures are in place as  result of reliance on high stakes standardized testing  that maintain an underclass that feeds the all volunteer military as well as the Prison-Industrial Complex.

It sucks out there.  But in my classroom, there's a little incubator for a new generation who can continue to a work for Peace, Sustainability and Social Justice.  The miners in Kentucky sang "Which Side are You On?" and thanks in part to Pete Seeger, the song became an anthem for workers rights.  We preschool teachers sing another song made famous by Pete Seeger, "The Garden Song."  It's much more gentle, but it shows how we are in this for the long haul - just as much as the Koch Brothers.  They may have the money, but we have the spirit.  There's another thing of beauty for you (#55-101)

Inch by inch, Motherfuckers


Blogger Unknown said...

What an inspiring post. It makes me happy I'm going to be a teacher, not that I wasn't already bursting at the seams about that anyway but you know what I mean.

What a beautiful, light-filled classroom. I would want my child to go there.

As for US politics, I don't know what to say but I agree that we're in it for the long haul.

June 24, 2012 at 7:01 PM  
Blogger VV said...

I love your classroom. My favorite parts are those beautiful windows and all that natural wood in the furniture. It touches something inside me.

June 24, 2012 at 7:37 PM  
Anonymous Jennifer said...

Love your classroom. Love that you're taking pleasure and comfort in it (that it's beautiful). Beautiful post.

June 24, 2012 at 9:02 PM  
Blogger Mr. Charleston said...

What a great space, and it looks like you're going to make the best of it.

I know what you mean about being unsettled spiritually, I'm going through the same thing. I think a lot of us are. My grandfather taught me that the transition to the age of Aquarius would be gradual, not sudden (over centuries), with a lot of rough spots. I think we're in the ditch at the moment.

June 25, 2012 at 6:45 AM  
Blogger Cali said...

I agree with everyone else, that is a fan-freaking-tastic classroom! Much better than I had even imagined! I can't tell from the photo, but it leaves me wondering if they are little half-sized toilets like I had in my kindergarten class. I remember thinking they were the coolest thing ever. At open house I even made a point of showing them to my parents and grandparents! Either way, your classroom is, indeed, a thing of beauty.

The first election I was old enough to vote in was the Carter/Reagan election. It sucked to lose that one, AND the next two as well.

Being what is now called a "Tail-End Baby Boomer" I am right at the age where everything started to change. Almost all of my text books in school were old, out of date and fairly torn up by the time I got them. All the facilities that were built or rehabilitated for the Baby Boomers were in disrepair. In seventh grade my school tore down our old, WWI-era gym. In eighth grade they built a new one, but my class never got to set foot in it. I was one of the last classes to get any Civics education, whatsoever, and all that required was attendance at four long, boring city council or school board meetings. There was little (if any) actual Civics instruction. It was merely a requirement of our senior American Government class, which was really just a history class. These are just a few examples of how messed up my school experience was. All of the policies were in a constant state of flux and judging by my son's dismal school experience, it only got worse.

He got nothing but teaching the standardized tests and teaching to the lowest common denominator. Oh yeah, and he was part of the failed "whole language" experiment that expected kids to learn to read and write by osmosis. If it wasn't for "Hooked on Phonics" my son probably still wouldn't be able to read!

You were very lucky to have lived where you do and had the resources you had to be able to get a decent education for Velvet.

June 28, 2012 at 10:48 PM  
Blogger Cali said...

Wait. It just dawned on me. A changing table? All the preschools here require kids be potty trained before acceptance. Only day care facilities accept kids who are still in diapers here. Or, at least that is how it was when my son was in preschool. But I gather that people aren't potty training kids as early as they used to. Some kids are apparently still struggling when they enter kindergarten! Crazy! IMO, that's just laziness on the part of the parents.

My son turned 2 in May, and by the end of that summer he was totally trained. I just let him run around naked all summer and watched him closely. He only had a brief little bit of trouble when we moved six months later, a common cause of childhood regression. I was a gentle potty trainer and used only positive reinforcement techniques that did NOT involve M&Ms at a time when many parents still spanked children for accidents. I have to admit that I seriously wonder about the parenting of a child that isn't yet trained by kindergarten.

June 28, 2012 at 11:18 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Beautiful. I love seeing your photos. :-) talking later....

June 29, 2012 at 1:19 PM  
Blogger Mona Sabalones Gonzalez said...

Love your passion for your job. The song is lovely. Things aren't always perfect, but our passions and, as the song says, the harvest that comes by working "inch by inch" will surely reap rewards. God bless:)

July 1, 2012 at 12:28 PM  
Blogger PENolan said...

Hey kids - I'm having trouble staying in the loop now that I'm living a life without consistent internet. The good news is that I'm not bumming out because of The News all the time.

Susan, You're going to be a great teacher. I'm excited to have such a reflective, thoughtful colleague!

V.V. You should see the art studio down the hall. Gorgeous!

Jennifer - you and your photos have inspired me to take some snapshots. Wait til you see the garden where I've been spending my time lately.

Mr. C, I think a LOT of us are unsettled for exactly that reason. Hope you're finding a little peace of mind, or at least some good martinis.

Cali, My kids are only two years sold, so they don't have to be potty trained. Actually, we often facilitate the process. It's really very simple. Put a kid in underwear when s/he shows signs of readiness, then ask him/her in a straightforward, matter of fact tone, "Did you want to use the potty or would you rather pee yourself on the playground? It's your choice. Either way is fine with me." They tend to choose the toilet unless they're feeling ornery. But don't get me started on Parents today. I'm happy to say that I'll be doing a parenting series in the fall in which I can start developing an Asshole Prevention Program.
FYI: I used the naked method with Velvet, too. We rented a house in the Catskills for a couple of weeks. Lovely place with blueberry bushes in the yard and everything. One week going naked is all it took, but he had just turned three.

Thanks, Monisima. I love it when you drop by.

And Gwen, I'll talk to you later ;)

July 2, 2012 at 9:08 PM  

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