On Tuesday morning I walked into my assigned classroom and was astounded. The room was the neatest and cleanest room I'd ever seen. No clutter anywhere, and that included on top of the students' desks. Bulletin boards were colorful and clear, desks were perfectly lined up, and the only visible materials were the things I'd need for the day. It looked like a classroom set for a movie. I really would have been happy to just sit there and absorb my surroundings all day.
The teacher for whom I was subbing was in an onsite meeting and came into the room during a break to work on a bulletin board. As I tried to teach a reading lesson with one kid screaming the whole time that I was doing it wrong, I watched her work on the board. She pulled out a ruler and measured the distance between the things she was posting.
Suddenly it made sense. This was a woman who spent a lot of time on details. Simply eyeballing distance didn't work for her aesthetic sensibilities and the extra effort was noticeable. Moreover, her class of first graders may have been one of the best groups I've ever worked with. (My little critic aside.) They were certainly the best first grade class!
Then, today, I walked into a classroom that looked like a tornado had run through it. The room was very large. Easily the size of a classroom and a half, if not two very small rooms. There were scraps of paper on the floor and stuff everywhere. Books, piles of worksheets so high they were falling over, broken pencils, clipboards...just stuff.
And the students were not awful, but they had a hard time focusing. This was fourth grade, so it's not really fair to compare the two days I'm writing about, especially since there were thirteen more students in my group today than yesterday. The fact that the older the students get, the harder time they give a substitute also was a factor, but I couldn't help thinking: does the organization of the environment affect the behavior of the students?
I'm sure people have done studies on this. I'm sure if I wanted to, I could track this and do my own unofficial study based on my substitute travels. I'm not sure to what end, or what I might learn. There are so many things affecting each child in each hour of each day that you can't narrow down everything to the way the classroom looks, but it would be interesting to see if I can make connections.