I sit here in class, writing as my students do. I wonder if I have anything that can translate into tonight’s post.
Storytelling. What storytelling do I have to tell?
Maybe the risk of bringing in my first sofa — my first couch, then my first chair, my first reading corner.
I sit here in the middle of my classroom at my little round pub table. No desk, just a little table for my laptop and a little writing space for the doc camera. It’s parked in the middle of the room, tethered to the projector above our heads by a monitor cable.
On either side of my table are my two sofas, sitting dead center in the classroom.
It began with one. My little 50’s-era sofa I’d gotten off of craigslist had fluff coming out of the arms, but the print was still yellow-rific gorgeous, a happy sunny color I needed in my room because I’m basically wall-less. I’m bounded by two walls- worth of whiteboards and one wall of widows. No space for prints or posters, so I thought the cheery color of my sofa would bring life into the room.
A little. I kept him in the corner. Kids rarely sat on him because I was too timid to let them roam beyond our 30 steely desks — desks with the iron rails and cages of prison bars. Little pens for my small pets, I reasoned. My students were too untrained to be let out.
My first year passed uneventfully, so I decided to expand the soft seating in my room when I came across a little sofa set in good condition at the Goodwill. Only when they’re done with their work, I told myself. Only kids who behave.
I rotated seating. I only allowed them to read in a soft space for 10 minutes, and only when they completed their work. I didn’t allow reading from devices, only from books. I trolled them to make sure they turned their pages … well, not quite. But I knew I was rather hard-nosed about my sofas. I thought bringing in extra bean-bags would compensate for my gestapo-like teacher tactics.
One day, when I was congratulating myself on offering my students “choice” in sitting around the room, I sensed a sort of misery emanating from the corners of the room. Right when “choice” kids were settled in the far corners of the room and immersed in what I knew was “The Zone” with their books, the bell would ring. They’d bound off their little soft spot and fight the exiting crowd, like salmon swimming up stream, back to their seats to gather their papers and retrieve their things. Books would drop, pencils would roll and they’d rush off in a hurry.. stress and worry on their faces.
Stress and worry on their faces.
Leaving my room? Like this? .. I was the cause of their duress?
That was about 2-3 years ago.
My transformation occurred the year after I attended the Heart of Texas Writing Institute, a National Writing Project affiliate, when I became a writer with my students.
It took me a year to figure out how to work Workshop in my classroom. I ditched the desk-cages and brought in trap tables to facilitate Talk for the kids. I tossed my huge tanker-teacher desk, my personal destroyer battleship that guarded the firm boundary I’d created between me and my students. And I grew comfortable in my own skin. I grew comfortable of Risk.
The beginning of this year, I embraced Risk fully and planted my couches in the center of the room. Two sofas, 3 oversized chairs, 1 ottoman, 3 beanbags and an oriental rug for those who love to write on their tummies.
I’ve thrown my fear out into the wind, but not control over my classroom. My kids feel safe, and where safety exists, writers grow. Taking on a little risk, starting with those sofas, helped my kids take on a little risk, too.
Now, we flourish together.