Many of you know that we moved to California a couple of weeks ago, and I got a job at a small Christian school very similar to the school I was sad to leave in Colorado. However, it seems like every day I’m realizing how much better the facilities and work environment are at my new school. Don’t get me wrong. I will always be grateful for the time I spent at Evangelical Christian Academy. For six wonderful years, I built strong relationships with my students, their families, my colleagues, and the school administration. I loved my job there. It’s also important to note that I believe that ECA is doing the best it can with the resources it has. I also acknowledge that there are teachers who work in classroom conditions far worse than what I will ever experience. I will never be bitter or resentful for conditions under which I worked, but I am just now starting to realize, by way of contrast, just how challenging those working conditions were.
For starters, I worked in a windowless classroom. This may not be a big deal for some people, but there were days that the lack of natural light had a soul-crushing effect on me. It took me five years to realize that the fluorescent tube lights had to go, and I hauled in a motley collection of borrowed lamps and positioned them around the room for better light. You could hear the kids calm down when they walked into my glowing room–they adored my lamps. The kicker was that every Wednesday and Friday, I had to make all the lamps disappear, because I still shared space with the church, and my lamps were too weird for Sunday School. Finding places to stuff lamps in a classroom with almost no storage was a huge challenge. I ended up finding separate places to store lamp shades and bases and light bulbs. Not an easy task.
My new classroom has floor-to-ceiling windows covered with vertical blinds. Floor to vaulted ceiling.
Then there was the whole problem of sharing space with the church. In my building, we were definitely the trespassers; some might even say, the squatters. In other words, the space was the church’s first and the school’s second (the opposite of the way things worked in the main building). So despite the fact that I used the space for 40+ hours per week, and the church used the space for 2 hours per week, I did not have a bulletin board to call my own, and the only wall space available for me to use was at the front and back of the classroom. And even that space was hotly contested: one day, a church employee came into the room and, without a word, removed my posters while I sat there speechless. I got the space back, but not without a fight. The storage situation was also deplorable. The church had a row of floor-to-ceiling locked cabinets and a countertop. If I dared encroach on the counter space and forgot to move my things before a church event, my stuff was summarily dumped on my keyboard or my chair. The first three years, I had a small, broken filing cabinet in which to store everything. I also had a desk fit for the dumpster that was constantly giving me splinters. Whenever I got a new splinter, I patched the offending spot with duct tape. I felt like a queen when I finally got a slightly better desk and a locking cabinet with doors.
In my new school, I no longer have to share space with a church. All the wall space is mine. I have a closet that locks, a filing cabinet that is just for files, and four bookshelves, one of which is a built-in. I also have a huge, L-shaped desk that I have determined is quite splinter-free.
Technology was the worst. Even without the benefit of contrast, I knew my situation was bad. I had to beg, borrow, and finally steal (also known as “long-term borrowing”) a shoddy projector if I wanted to display anything, and I only had the old, dirty whiteboard for a projection screen. For the first five years, I had to crawl under my desk in order to plug in the projector. The kids would come in and find me with my rear end sticking out from the desk while I tried to get the projector working. I had no speakers; those I constantly borrowed-without-asking from a gracious colleague. For movies, I had to bring my personal laptop, because my computer didn’t have a DVD player. There was sometimes the option of wheeling in a mobile TV/DVD player combo, but that was only if a) you were willing to fight off a few other teachers for it and b) by some miracle it had the necessary remote controls. My computer was a dinosaur: big, old, and slow. I never could get the wireless to work. I ran a wire from the ceiling, in front of my cabinet, to the back of my computer. If I wanted to open the file cabinet, I had to unplug the Internet.
In my new classroom, I have a projector that is mounted into the ceiling and is permanently hooked up to both my computer and a nice set of speakers. I have a white retractable projection screen. I have a TV, VCR, and DVD player all permanently installed and also hooked up to the speakers, ready to play. I have a stereo for books on CD. I have a relatively new computer and the latest Microsoft Office suite.
Then there was the matter of the keys. In the six years I worked at ECA, I never managed to get a key to my building. This would have been no big deal if the doors were always unlocked when they were supposed to be. But I made countless trips to the office to ask a busy administrator to open the door to my building. Time and again, I asked for my own building key, and time and again I was told that it shouldn’t be a problem for me to get one. But it never happened. Just before I left, we were told that from now on, the buildings would be locked 15 minutes after school. The teachers in my building were in complete uproar. If we needed a copy after school (which happened frequently), we could not get into the other building to get it or back into our own building to get our stuff. I escaped in the nick of time.
The first day I went to my new school for paperwork, I was handed a key to my classroom and a key to the outside building. The superintendent had no idea why I was so ecstatic. I was almost crying.
To top it all off, the new school’s pay and benefits are much better. I believe that ECA gives its teachers all it possibly can, but resources are severely limited. The last I heard, enrollment at the secondary campus is down 20 students from last year, a huge deficit. Unfortunately, this will mean more crowded classrooms, teachers getting classes they’re not good at teaching so that they can stay full time, and fewer resources available for upgrades and improvements. I must say that I taught in blissful ignorance. I was very happy at ECA, mostly because I just loved the students and their families so much that I was blind to the obstacles I faced in my classroom environment. I feel like I was able to accomplish a lot and prepare students well despite those difficulties; I can’t wait to see what I’ll be able to accomplish when I feel well-supported and well-equipped.