Reading the room

Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.

I walked through the new school today.

You can read buildings.  They are like anything made by people; an embodiment of the ideas of those who designed them and the culture they come from.

What did the new building tell me?

It told me that the special needs’ students are important.  That they should have lots of light and space and doors outside to nature and a beautiful view.  I was pleased the building told me that.  It was my favourite space in the new place.

The building also showed that Art and Cooking are important.  That Music and Media are too.  That these subjects require lots of space, and equipment, and workrooms for their teachers to share and think in, and designated storage facilities.  The people who designed this building respected those subjects.  As they respected power: the leadership of the school, and the accountants, and the people who serve them.  There was space for them, with windows across the city, and privacy, a bit of quiet from the busy life of the school.

There was an intestinal, warren of little rooms, and bench seats, and corridors for counselors and guidance that might be a cosy, quiet space of nooks or a restless, perplexing labyrinth.  It’s hard to tell now, without the people making sense of it.  There were curious spaces like that dotted about.  Corridors that felt overly complex, convoluted, and rooms with needlessly odd shapes, angled walls contrived into a rectangular building.  The thinking of the designers seemed choked here: over complicating an essentially simple physical frame.

I wondered what the people who designed this building thought about Maths and English and the Social Sciences.  Reading the building it seems they didn’t think of them because there are no spaces for them.  There are general teaching spaces but that is all.  You can go the Music Department.  To Art, Design, Languages, PE and Hospitality, but you can’t go to the Maths Department.  It doesn’t exist.  Like Social Science and English.

This is a matter of design and of systems implemented within the new design.

It is by design, that if you go to see the Head of Social Science you will find me sitting in a shared workroom with two Maths teachers and an English teacher.  I will be sitting in a room, the Head of a Department that doesn’t exist, without a single member of the department I lead: privy to no knowledge of how the people I share a subject area with are going in their lives, with their workload, or with their classes.

I also wondered why the designers thought that these people, teachers of nothing in particular, do not need the dignity of privacy when they teach or when they are not teaching.  Why they thought they should put these teachers in an office with windows on all sides in the centre of open plan classrooms surrounded at all times by their students, or – when they are teaching – observed by all their peers from the office.  A pan-opticon in fact.  Why we, uniquely, have no place to call home, to decorate, to fill with resources and stimulating materials for our students who happen to love calculus, Shakespeare or feminism.  Why we, uniquely, have no resource rooms at hand.  Why we, uniquely cannot work with our subject peers, surrounded by students who love our particular subject, feeding off each other and finding our tūrangawaewae.

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John-Paul

I wrote a book called Kaitiaki o te Pō