After a few weeks of no desks and simply stools, something was beginning to take shape in my classroom.
It started to become a trash heap.
It was really offensive.
I shook my fist. I created a slideshow of the ways they defiled my classroom and said "No!"
I pleaded. I begged.
This new concept of an open space was foreign to the kids, and for some reason, it gave them more leverage to leave trash on the floor and not get up and throw it away.
Part of that is my fault, I realized. When it comes to a room that is different then others, you need to reteach some routines and place in some structures. And be consistent. Unlike what they're used to, there are no desks to push chairs under. Instead, there are stools and coffee tables everywhere.
Wouldn't it be nice if those got moved out of the way so the evening custodian, who is also a friend, can be more efficient in doing his work?
One would think.
But the minute the bell rings, kids shoot up like scared cats, and bolt out of the room. I see kid-shaped clouds for one second before they dissipate.
With a mere 5 minutes to walk a few miles across a desert to their next class, my students aren't concerned about the journalism space anymore. They're on to their next endeavors, and they don't want to be tardy.
The first thing I've done this year is to try and create a place for the stools and chairs to go when not in use. Chairs sit under the computers. Six of the stools have a place to go next to a counter and an additional table. The other six stools are to be pushed toward the wall of the room. Little black coffee tables are also to be pushed to the walls.
Instead, the two plastic spinning chairs on wheels are on the other side of the room where theyd on't belong, because let's face it, chairs with wheels are fun.
I scoot around in them just as crazy as the next person.
But they have a specific place to go to, as well...and are they ever there?
Of course not.
Dystopian novels wouldn't have ever been written if chairs were actually put back to where they belonged.
If you didn't realize, the true inspiration to books like "1984," "The Handmade's Tale," and "The Hunger Games," all came about because people didn't push in their chairs.
It was all chaos.
It was all out of control.
Although students have creative control when it comes to where they sit or what they sit on, it still needs a home base at the end of the day. I have given them that, and my sixth graders know this, especially, because they are my final class.
What I don't do is give them ample time to stop, take a breath, and move any piece of furniture where it belongs. To take a moment and pick up any scattered papers.
I hear the bell, or look at my watch, throw my hands up like a crazy person, and yell, "It's time to go, put all the furniture back!"
What they hear is: "It's time to go! Destroy the room and never return!"
I realized this today when my room looked like it survived a tsunami. I'm not giving my students the chance to put the room back in order. How can I be mad when I'm part of the problem?
At home, they're parents probably nag them relentlessly about not pushing chairs and stools back under counters and tables. They do it all the time at home, it's just, when I've got 30+ of them in my room, it's 30 times worse.
Imagine if they all lived in the same house together.
Stools, chairs and tables would become blockades.
I'm not good about room procedures like that. I get frustrated every year, and never try to change it. The students are mine for 9 or 10 weeks, and then I lose them. With yearbooks, newspapers, online stories, and video announcements to create, I don't make time to remind the kids to pick up.
But I think it's time to start, as well as give them ample time to set my room up straight.
Who is The Vade Mecum
Evan Williams is a middle school journalism teacher in Indiana. He advises the student publications: yearbook, magazine, video announcements, broadcast and online news. To find success in the classroom, he uses blended learning with the help of Canvas and Google Apps for Education.