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    first grade
    By Julianne

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    I have had some experience with open schools. In our state many of the schools who experimented with this style of learning have gone back to more traditional, closed classrooms, either by remodeling their schools or by teachers placing their furniture in such a way that it created walls. A couple of things you're likely to encounter:

    Noise. In open schools the noise factor takes on new importance. You'll have to be more aware of when and how to schedule noisy activities, how to bring your children back to silence and what other teachers in your vicinity will tolerate. I tend to speak in a strong (some would say loud...) voice. When I was working in the open school setting I had to remind myself to lower my voice. I also didn't always remember to adjust my teaching style to minimize the students' noise level. I taught science classes to second through sixth grade students and we had a lot of "ah ha" momemts. Sometimes these were just too loud for the neighboring students. I should have reworked the situation or moved the group elsewhere.

    Teaming. Most open classrooms are built around the concept of teaming. If your experiences have been in a traditional closed class you will have to get used to the give and take of teaming. Being the new kid on the block you'll probably have less input into what happens in your grade level and which parts each teacher is responsible for. I found the teaming great fun for the most part, but some of the teachers I worked with left me stressed at the end of the day because our styles were different and I didn't always click with them.

    One last observation about open schools - a school very near my house was build on an open floor plan. One Saturday we noticed smoke coming from the building. Within minutes the entire school was engulfed in flames. It burned to the ground before the fire department could save it. It turned out that a faulty light fixture had sparked the blaze in the ceiling of the building. Because there were few internal walls to stop it the fire spread quickly. Thankfully, the fire happened on a weekend. The community came together to provide alternate classrooms for the displaced students. Teachers in that building lost everything. There was a statewide effort among colleagues to donate materials and supplies to replace the teachers' personal items lost in the fire. We learned several lessons from this. First, the school district carried no insurance on teachers' personal materials, second, schools with open settings need to have carefully drawn escape plans and practice them often, and third, these schools should be inspected diligently for any fire hazards.

    I reread the above and hope it doesn't sound too negative. Open schools can be exciting and enriching. You're going to have a very interesting year. Let us know how you like it.


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