One of the major differences in Hungarian schools (compared to American ones) is that teachers don’t have their own classrooms. There is one big room where all the teachers have their desks and keep their stuff. The students have their own rooms, and/or they move rooms each lesson.
This system has numerous advantages and disadvantages. One of the biggest negatives is that it can lead to a total lack of involvement in developing the classrooms. Nobody really cares about the classrooms when you’re in a different one every 45 minutes anyway. In American schools, each classroom clearly belongs to a certain teacher who is responsible for making it nice. It’s in their interest to make it nice, since they’re going to be spending most of their time there. And it’s in their interest to make it effective, since they’ll be teaching all their lessons there.
In some Hungarian schools, different classes take responsibility for their class’ room and decorate it. I’ve visited both high schools and elementary which had wonderfully decorated rooms which were fun to be in and reflected the personality of the class. If the students are going to be having most or many of their lessons in one room over four year, it is clearly in their interests to make it as comfortable and welcoming as possible.
In my school, we have the worst of both worlds. Although each class has a room which is technically theirs, they probably only have a few classes a week there, because everyone moves around all the time. There are a few classrooms which have been painted, which have some posters or pictures on the walls, which have some plants of flowers in them. But a lot of the classrooms are just plain blah:
What an inspiring place for learning, right? The room pictured above is the classroom in my school which I have decided is going to become “my” classroom. Somehow. Someday.
I’ve been making small steps, although it’s definitely been two steps forward, one step back, so far. Plans to paint the walls took off with a bang, but now they’ve been on hold for a while. Getting some new basic furniture (I mean a single bookshelf; don’t let your imagination get away from you) also fell through.
But there have been some positive steps as well. The desks have been rearranged in a more friendly circle (which you can already see in the pics above), and after weeks of prodding certain stubborn colleagues have agreed to leave them that way. A couple of the extra desks were moved out. My biggest accomplishment was the headmaster giving me permission to paint and rearrange the classroom with a free hand. Although, I shouldn’t really be surprised by that – he’s a logical man, and frankly anything I could do to that room would be an improvement.
And while major painting and renovation may have to wait for next year, I did find a way to brighten up the room a bit. I covered the two ugly frames with fabric and decided that they would be interactive bulletin boards. The first project was this:
Click to see bigger versions of some of the leaves:
I cut a bare tree out of black felt and tacked it up. Then I cut ten thousand leaves from green card stock. Or maybe it was closer to a hundred…. but it felt like ten thousand. I coerced a couple of students into writing or drawing something beautiful on a couple of leaves as examples and tacked them up myself. After that I just left the empty leaves and tacks with a note explaining that students should “Write something beautiful.”
This was an interesting project. The bulletin board itself is nothing amazing (although it did get pretty by the end, don’t you think?) What was fascinating was the reaction to it. Bulletin boards are not a staple of Hungarian schools like they are of American schools. When I first mentioned this idea to a couple of colleagues and students, their reactions ranged from “I can’t picture it, but it might be fun” to “well, it’s your free time, I guess” all the way down to “that will never work” and “the students will destroy it.”
That last one is a phrase I’ve heard numerous times during my quest to improve this little classroom. Can I have some dictionaries in the classroom? No, students will steal them. Shall we paint the walls? Who cares, people will deface it anyway. Can I make any improvement at all? It will be destroyed.
I didn’t want to believe this. After all, I teach in one of the best schools in the country (or so they keep telling us 🙂 ). And for the most part, I was right. There were a few leaves on which people wrote less-than-beautiful sentiments. I removed a couple and, most encouragingly, others were removed by colleagues and other students. Not only did many people get into making something beautiful, they took it upon themselves to keep it beautiful as well.
In addition to the few nasty comments, there were some which were on the fence. Someone removed the first version of this cat, which was less of a cat and more of something else. The artist’s second version was slightly more cat-like, so it stayed:
So the first bulletin board was a success, and it seems like everyone enjoyed it. Today, with one week left of school, I managed to get a new one put up. With the help of a most enthusiastic class, we stripped off the old one and got the new one up in about 5 minutes. Sorry for the blurry pictures; I snapped them as I was running out of the room so class could start:
The idea being that each petal contains some words of wisdom, which the students can rip off and take home with them, to mull over during the summer. I hope this one will be as well-used as the first…. and that I’m not pushing it too far by encouraging them to rip up my bulletin boards!
If anyone would like to do a similar project, here is a link to a google doc with all the quotes I used, plus a short explanation on the last page.