Classroom availability limited

Teachers adapt as student enrollment in science courses outnumbers classrooms

One week prior to the start of the 2018-2019 school year, physiology teacher Oliver Weiss learned he would now be teaching fourth period physiology, a lab-based science course, in a room that lacked the necessary materials found in a traditionally equipped lab-classroom.

This is part of a larger trend where student enrollment in lab-based science courses outnumbers available lab classrooms, requiring teachers to share.

“We have more science teachers than we have classrooms, so we know there’s going to be some kind of shifting around,” Weiss said. “It’s just a matter of how do we do it in such a way that it’s equitable for everybody.”

According to the master schedule developed last spring, Weiss was initially set to teach the course in Darcee Durham’s classroom, which has lab equipment available. However, last minute scheduling changes initiated the move to history teacher Carol Crabtree’s social science classroom, which lacks the space, chemical showers, sinks, outlets for microscopes, and other basic equipment necessary to perform dissections and labs.

Science teacher Oliver Weiss helps a student in his fourth period physiology class.

Crabtree was initially informed of this change a few days prior to the start of the school term through her colleagues. Assistant principal Matt Pipitone later confirmed the switch.

“I’m going to assume it was a last minute decision, because I was told at the last minute,” Crabtree said.

The unplanned change meant this was the first time in his teaching career that Weiss wouldn’t have immediate access to a science classrooms with lab equipment for his physiology course.

In order to accommodate for the lack of space and equipment, Weiss has been altering his curriculum plans to adhere to his new constraints.

Thus far, this includes adjusting labs and class projects to occur outside and scheduling to borrow other science teachers’ lab classrooms if necessary.

His flexibility extends to AP environmental science Jeffery Underwood, who is willing to lend out his room for dissections and other necessary physiology labs that are meant to be at the core of the curriculum, thereby simultaneously displacing his own students from their fourth period classroom.

Science teacher Jeffery Underwood with a student from his first period class. Due to limited facilities, Weiss must use Underwood’s classroom during class labs.

Underwood’s own experience with mobile classrooms taught him that there are budgetary and spacial limits that force RHS science teachers to continue sharing lab-spaces.

“Outfitting a classroom is very expensive,” Underwood said. “For science classrooms, it’s expensive to make sure that you’ve got your water and your gas and all those things that are needed to teach a science class.”

On days when physiology stays in room 903, Crabtree, who no longer has full access to her classroom during her fourth period prep, relegates herself to the hallway in the lower level of the 900 west building. The teacher nook, located near the bathrooms, faces foot traffic and noise from in-session classes. It is also one of the few available teacher work spaces with a computer, which Crabtree uses to more comfortably complete her work.

“Obviously it’s not an ideal situation, but it’s really the only place [to get work done],” Crabtree said. “The inconvenience is much worse for science teachers who are being displaced.”

Crabtree frequently sees other teachers working under similar circumstances in the hallway throughout the day.

As physics teachers, Leslie Kalmer and JoAnne Cook also share classrooms with one another, though their shared subject allows them to have constant access to all equipment necessary for their labs, demonstrations and other class-wide projects.

“Sharing classrooms is cumbersome,” Cook said. “[But] I would rather share a classroom because I think it’s better for the students.”
Kalmer believes that even Weiss’ willingness to be flexible in his lesson plans isn’t enough to fully counteract the absence of basic equipment.

“He was put in a situation that is very difficult that I wouldn’t want to do,” Kalmer said. “Having to teach a science class, especially so lab-oriented, is almost impossible to do. He can’t possibly do it the way he wants.”

Weiss plans his schedule around his labs and class-wide activities. His ultimate goal is to avoid interfering with his lessons plans too drastically and noticeably impacting the students’ learning experience.

“I’m just going to focus on what I can do for my students instead of what I can’t do,” Weiss said.

Despite his efforts, students are aware of the limitations of their classroom. Senior Julia Barnes feels restricted by the lack of readily available equipment.

“It sucks,” Barnes said. “I feel like we aren’t getting as much out of our lessons as we normally would.”