Better Than That

 

Every year for the past two years the air conditioner in my classroom has gone out. Broken. This happens for two to three weeks out of the school year. Each time it gets “called in.” Each time we wait and wait. Each time, eventually someone comes out to fix it. And then it works for a little while. And then it breaks again. And it gets “called in.” And we wait…

This is a problem. Let me dive a little deeper into three aspects of the problem.

1.  I have to teach in 80-90 degree heat. My students have to learn in this heat. The students are stressed, although they are troopers, and very little complaining goes on. But I can see it in their flushed faces. And I get tired too. When I get home I can wring out my clothing. I have painful heat rashes all over my body. It is stressful to teach in these conditions.

Each time this happens, I am offered a cooler spot- most often the library. I appreciate this, and we took advantage of it on the very hottest 100-degree-day this week. We really had no choice. But it isn’t an ideal solution. It isn’t really any solution at all. Which leads me to the second aspect of the problem.

2.  Assuming that I can pick up my classroom and move to an alternate location for an indeterminate amount of time is an erroneous assumption. If it were for a day or two– I could handle that. I do handle that on a regular basis. But this is different. This is for a week, or maybe two, or maybe only three or four days. No one knows.

I plan lessons to occur in my classroom where I have access to my charts, my books, my technology, my tools, my seating arrangements, my meeting spaces. This is a carefully orchestrated endeavor each and every day. I don’t take this work lightly. To assume I can just move it all to an alternate location at the drop of a hat, and then back again, during the course of a regular day… I will be honest and tell you I feel insulted. I know that is not anyone’s intent, but it is a real feeling I experience when this solution is brought up as a “Why don’t you just move to the library…” solution to the problem of a broken (again) air conditioner.

The fact is that when we move, we accomplish about 50% of the work I had planned for that day. We cannot focus, we are constantly interrupted, we are in a whole new space without our normal borders and boundaries. This is fine for a day or two, but not as a regular and seemingly permanent solution for this persistent problem. I am and always have been the kind of teacher who is mindful of every moment of instruction. I am often literally breathless at the end of the day. There is very little down time in my classroom. And yet I am forced to choose between teaching in the heat or losing what amounts to half a day of instruction every day that the air conditioner breaks. This is an unacceptable choice.

Last spring I was forced to give them the state tests during a no-air-conditioner period, and because the library was unavailable, we had to remain in our classroom with the doors and windows open and the portable fans blowing loudly–which was a good thing because it drowned out the noise coming for the lunch bench and playground areas– during testing. This is one of the main ways in which my students and I are judged, and these were the conditions under which we had to work. No one made a note of that on the test results page.

3.  The third aspect of the problem is this: What message does it send to our families when the very basic need of adequate shelter cannot be met by the school to which they entrust their children? To tell our children again and again that “someone is going to fix it but we don’t know when” is to let them know that they are not important. Their needs take a back seat to other district needs. What else could be more important than clean, safe and reasonably comfortable facilities?

In addition, we are under an order by the local air quality management district to filter the air that flows into our classroom 24/7. There are two large signs stuck on to my wall demanding that I run the fan at all times. This is important it says! Yet, this filtering does not occur when the AC is down because with it goes the fan. So, not only are my students hot and sweaty, but they are also breathing air that has been determined to be unhealthy for them, and there is not a thing I can do about it. And no one seems to think it is important anymore.

 

I think it is more than evident that a pattern has been established here. The air conditioning unit for room 37 is not ever going to be okay. And it is not okay with me that that fact has become a permanent part of my employment. I try hard to be a team player. I am not a big complainer. I have been a flexible, hardworking, problem-solving educator for 30 years in this district. And I believe that my students and I deserve better than this hot and sweaty limbo condition every few months for days and weeks at a time. Can’t we do better than that?

Sincerely,

Cathy Scott Skubik

Park Western Place Elementary

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