4 Ways to Overcome Terrible Teaching Environments

If you’re educating in community centers, it’s rare to know what kind of space you’ll be teaching in, and sometimes it’s the worst educational environment you can imagine. But personally, I’m just thankful that I get a space to talk about sexuality education at all. One New York Times article asked, “If jails are cleaner and better designed than schools, what does that say to children about the relative importance of education?”

Let me take you back to one particular community center for a moment. I was teaching middle school kiddos in a low-income neighborhood at a community center that they went to after school. Usually, the kiddos would finish their homework, access tutoring, and play basketball. We had a weekly sex-ed group, and we were given the leftover space. What exactly is a “leftover space,” you may wonder, but allow me to elaborate…

The room was:

  • Directly above the gym. The room echoed with basketballs and yelling. The court might as well have been in the room with us.
  • Freezing. There was no heat in the winter, and this is winter in Delaware. The students were wearing puffy coats and gloves.
  • Too bright. The lights were directly overhead, and there was no way to dim them or to turn them off. This meant that we had to keep all of the lights on during videos.
  • Windowless. There was no natural light, and it was very closed in, even though studies have shown that windows enhance mental well-being, alertness, and productivity.

If you get dealt a terrible teaching environment, here are 4 ways to make it work:

  1. If the space is noisy, acknowledge the noise. Everyone is going to notice it, and you can’t pretend it doesn’t exist. Once you acknowledge it, it won’t be at the forefront of everyone’s mind. And after a while, it will just become a sort of white noise. Lucky for you, white noise actually increases children’s ability to concentrate.
  2. If there is no temperature control, it can be difficult for the students to pay attention. If it’s too cold, make sure you incorporate a lot of activities that get the students moving. If it’s too hot, grab a fan or incorporate less kinesthetics, and check out these 12 ways to beat the heat.
  3. If the lighting is terrible, get creative. If there’s no way to dim the lights, perhaps build a fort to create some shade. If there aren’t any windows, and the center allows you to take the kids outside, get ’em outside and taking in some Vitamin D! If you can’t take the learners outside, you can bring plants into the classroom. Not only do plants add ambiance, according to Daly, Burchett, and Torpy, they also improve air quality and learning (2010).
  4. Remember that the optimal learning environment isn’t dictated by the four walls that surround you, but by the ways that you engage the learners. Know your demographic, and pay attention to the developmental stages of your learners. Bastable and Dart highlight the developmental stages across the lifespan, an important component in planning your activities.

How have you overcome terrible teaching environments?