We’ve been having a heat wave in Vermont, in the northeastern United States where I live. The temperature has reached 95° F (35° C). It’s actually hotter here than it was in Saudi Arabia when I visited in the spring. It got me thinking about the effect of heat and other discomforts on our classes and how we approach them.
ESL classes in the U.S. are often “at the bottom of the totem pole”—that is, at the lowest level of importance—in a university setting. The result is that sometimes we end up teaching in classrooms that no one else wants.
During a ten-year period when I taught at an intensive English program in Los Angeles, I got to teach in some of the following less-than-wonderful classrooms:
- a chemistry lab, where students had to sit on high stools behind lab counters and balance their English textbooks over sinks and gas jets
- a converted student housing apartment after classrooms were damaged by an earthquake
- temporary classroom buildings that were really trailers on wheels (again because of the earthquake) that trembled and shook every time the noisy air conditioning units came on; and,
- probably worst of all, a machine shop, where students had to make their way past large pieces of scary power equipment and tools in order to get to the chairs at the front of the overly large room.
There was also the common problem of teaching in classrooms that were too hot and stuffy. Though I also remember teaching in China in the middle of winter in a poorly heated classroom. Although there was a small coal stove in the back, it really wasn’t adequate to warm the room. My poor students would huddle at their desks, their hands in gloves with the fingertips cut off wrapped around cups of hot tea in an effort to warm themselves.
Of course there are other things that can make classrooms uncomfortable:
- noise from construction going on next door
- poor or inadequate lighting
- lack of temperature control
- equipment that doesn’t work
- an inability to write on the board because of missing chalk or markers.
Have you ever had to teach in a terrible classroom? What was it like? How did you handle it?