This, in all of its low-grade cell phone camera glory, is where I work:
It's the not the outside of the school of course, but for all intents and purposes, this is where I perform the majority of my labor. This is the teachers' room at Tokushima West Junior High School*.
In reading about and discussing the changes currently happening in Elmbrook high schools, I've begun to think more and more about the actual structure in which I work and how it compares to the schools I attended and worked in back in Wisconsin. While many aspects of the schools are similar - a principal's office, the gymnasium, classes filled with desks and student work - one particular area of this school struck me as being markedly different. And that was this teachers' room.
It occurred to me then that every junior high (and every high school for that matter) that I've been in back home lacked a true communal teachers' workspace. Yes, these schools had teachers' lounges where staff members could eat lunch and relax, and yes, they also had work rooms where teachers could make copies and prepare student materials. However, these spaces typically were not large enough to accomodate the entire school faculty and never seemed to be conducive to productivity. And lest I paint with too broad a brush here, I'll use the example of a specific middle school I worked in during my time as a student teacher in Madison.
At this particular school, communication and rapport amongst the staff was a fairly large issue. Teachers often made disparaging remarks about other staff members, "team" meetings were frequently held with only partial attendance, and on a curricular level there was little cohesiveness across subjects. Cooincidentally, there was also a lack of communal space for the teachers to work and discuss, and any meetings that occurred had to be held in classrooms after school.
Cut to the aforementioned "Tokushima West" school. In this school, faculty desks are arranged in a large staff room, with teachers visiting a different classroom each period. Here, each classroom houses a home room in which a group of roughly 30 students will take all of their classes. Teachers begin their day with a 20 minute faculty meeting in which the principal first addresses full-school issues before giving away to matters discussed by grade level. The first grade (seventh grade in the US) teachers sit side-by-side with other first grade teachers, the second grade with the second grade, and so on. Lesson plans are routinely talked over between classes and at lunch, and indeed what otherwise might be done "behind closed doors" is made quite public.
Now, I don't make these comparisons to suggest that the Japanese way is necessarily better, nor that it is in any way perfect. In truth, dissension still occurs between staff members at times, and the argument can be made that cooperation between individuals is perhaps more dependant upon individual effort than physical proximity. However, I think a borrowing of ideas might be valuable here. While permanent teachers relegated to carrying their materials on a cart may feel slighted in US schools, would they still feel this way if they had a desk in another, more permanent location? Furtermore, might my previous school in Madison have benefited from such an arrangement?
Just some food for thought.
*name changed for purposes of confidentiality