Rethinking portables

I was so fortunate in my teaching assignment. The Business Department was built around this room that was supposed to hold an IBM 1130 computer. To accommodate this, there was a keypunch room attached to it and then my classroom. It was stylin’ at the time. We had shag carpeting! The building was pretty new to the district and so it also had air conditioning. 99% of the time, it was a blessing keeping us cool from the hot, humid Essex County springs. But when it went down, the learning space was brutal.

There were no windows in any of the three rooms that, together, formed our learning space. Opening the hallway door didn’t really help since there was no air conditioning there either. The only movement of air was during class change and then it was back to sweltering. Eventually, I ended up buying a fan on a stand which had mixed blessings with all the paper that we seemed to use.

Generally, though, it was pretty good. The last time I was there the shag was gone and was replaced with tile. I couldn’t believe how much noisier the room had become. Without windows, there just was nowhere for it to go.

Later, as a consultant, I was always out and about. It was then that I truly appreciated my old digs. The district had some of the oldest buildings in the province and it showed. There is a certain scent that comes with age in a school building. Program choices and population growth also had forced many schools to take on portable classrooms.

Tin cans, jail cells, sardine tins, sweat boxes, deep freezes – I heard many of these affectionate descriptors from those teachers and students I met in this places. As a first time observer, it actually seemed kind of nice. Many teachers had outfitted them with their own fridges, you could close the door and there were no surprise visits from the principals, and there were no adjoining rooms for noise or noisy hallways. And you always had windows. Typically bars over them but at least they opened.

More than once, though, I heard the down side. Having to give up coffee because you needed to page the office if you needed a washroom break. Going in and out of the building for things like washrooms, gym, and library time always took its toll on patient and educational time. There was a real sense of isolation from the rest of the school.

During our morning walk, Jaimie and I noticed that the local district had removed the skirting from the bottom of a couple of portable classrooms. It was interesting to see (and sniff) at what was under there. Left over building materials, puddles of water, … We guessed that maybe this is the new normal for a portable classroom as there was no doubt that there was better ventilation under there. Just as long as kids don’t make spelunking a class activity!

I don’t normally give these rooms a second thought but, with all the concern about going back to school, maybe they do have their advantages. Your typical classroom is either on one side of a hall or another. If you’re fortunate enough to have windows, you can open them and if the wind is in the right direction. With a portable classroom, they have windows on both sides. That would give the type of flow through ventilation that is going to be so important.

Many school districts are focusing on many things to get ready for the fall and air flow has to be high on the list. It’s unfortunate that it takes a pandemic to give it the attention it needs. But, it needs to be addressed.

The portable classroom perhaps has it all to begin with. It also offers interesting options like easy access to working outside when the weather is nice. That may become the rule instead of the exception. Blankets on the lawn? Lawn chairs on the back to school list? How big is the school’s picnic table budget?

It’s pretty much an assurance that September will be the biggest of experiments. If plans are successful, they’ll continue throughout the school year. If they’re not, we’ll be seeing a move to learning at home again.

In the meantime, it seems to me that those who are in portable classrooms may have some easier options for accommodating the situation. Unless, of course, the secret gets out and they schedule even more students out there. Yikes.

Published by dougpete

The content of this blog is created by me at the keyboard or as a result of an aggregator of my daily reading under the title OTR Links. On Fridays, look for my signature post "This Week in Ontario Edublogs" where I try to share some great writing from Ontario Educators. The other regular post appears Sunday mornings as I try to start a conversation about things that have gone missing from our daily lives.

4 thoughts on “Rethinking portables

  1. Doug, I’ve only read and seen Twitter posts about the downsides of portables. I kind of like your thinking here. I never really considered the air flow component. Curious to hear what others have to say about this.


    P.S. I never had my own portable classroom, but did some supply work in one. I loved it! As someone that finds constant interruptions hard, nobody came out to interrupt in a portable. It was peaceful out there. Obviously not a good space for K, but I was always hoping for a year in a portable. Wondering if others ever felt the same.


  2. This will be my third straight year in a “cottage” ( less-lovingly referred to as the Easy-Bake Oven on the hot days of May, June and September) and the 4th in 9 years of teaching.
    There are definite advantages. My personal favourite is the ease of access to the outside. We go outside for DPA, students often choose to work outside, and much to the joy of my portable neighbours we practice are ukuleles and Boomwhackers outside.
    There is a sense of freedom. Unexpected visits are, for sure, limited.
    But I have never seen a portable with windows on both sides. And mine barely open. Two doors helps with airflow, but also ups the flying insect population. Messy projects and art require more planning (for clean up without a sink). And the dirt?!? There’s no leaving muddy boots and outdoor shoes in the hallway so it all comes in.
    (Let’s not talk about what lives underneath.)
    That said, this year will definitely be a year of being outside as much as possible. (Changes of state in matter is a great unit for those -25 with a windchill days!) Let’s hope for a cool, dry Fall.

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