Unclimbable Fences

I am in the middle of reading Jeff Anderson’s Mechanically Inclined when I get to this passage:

“Picture in your mind’s eye a classroom with almost every inch of wall space covered with sheets of long butcher paper hanging vertically – some white, some some yellow, all messy with examples written in marker. You see titles such as “Editor’s Checklist” and “Leads that Make You Want to Read.” Right beside these, another chart states a comma rule in sentences from the literature of Robert Cormier to Roberto from third period. Meaningful print is everywhere. It looks like Strunk and White’s Elements of Style exploded on the classroom walls.” (51)

Ahhh… I sigh and picture it. Everywhere is something important, something useful for kids to see and use. Wall charts with information currently being studied. Student writing samples. Student creations. Middle schoolers are shy about sharing their work, but they love it when they get to help create the room. I imagine my classroom in this state of beauty.

But soon that image fades and is replaced by another one…the face of the head custodian at our school. He couldn’t care less about an Editor’s Checklist and isn’t concerned with the students’ need to see their own work. No, his concern is with the fire inspector and what will be said when more than 20% of my wall is covered. That’s all I get in my room. 20%. I’ve been known to push the boundaries by using cabinet doors and the sides of bookshelves, but the rule is pretty clear. 20% The dream of wall-to-wall meaningful print is gone.

Often as teachers we are faced with battles that we can fight. We can appeal to our AP, our principals, our parents. We can even appeal to the school board to get a rule changed. Sometimes, though, we just have to accept what is. No matter what I do, no matter how much research I provide, the fire inspector isn’t going to change his mind.

There are numerous fences like this. Fences we can’t just climb over. Fences that we can’t tear down or move. Fences that we have to accept. It is what it is and cannot be changed. The problem really isn’t the fences, though. It’s our attitude towards them. Many teachers run up into one of them and decide that nothing at all can be done and they give up. The fence doesn’t just block one path; it blocks their whole road. It blocks out every bit of hope, every bit of drive. They say, “See, it can’t be done. I’ve tried.” I’ve been that teacher before.

But, fences are never solid, there is always a crack or break in them to see what lies beyond.

20%. No, I won’t realize Jeff Anderson’s vision of a ceiling to floor print-rich classroom, but I’ll find another way. I’ll post what I can. I’ll have students copy or paste what would be on the wall into their writing folders. I’ll post it to the website. I’ll rotate some of the wall charts out. I’ll convince another teacher on the team to put a chart up in their classroom. There may be a fence down one path, but I can see through it. I can see around it. I can see that somewhere, there is another path that will get me to the same destination. I just have to look a little harder.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Unclimbable Fences

  1. Art

    Love this post. We all have fences, but how do we get around them? IF what we are doing is educationally sound then it is worth pushing the envelope and getting creative. I agree that too many teachers just accept boundaries without thinking about ways around. I would get burned out if I just accepted every fence in my way!

  2. Pingback: Blank Slates Are Overrated « Teacher in Transition

  3. Here’s an idea to increase your percentage without breaking the rules. Use your multi-media projector to project rich text, words, visual images onto your screen. Think of it as wallpaper. You can leave it on for several hours, and change it up as often as you want.

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