…a history of classrooms

The first classroom you remember has a high ceiling, high windows, a plastic trough where you play with water.  There are books that are read to you while you sit cross-legged on the floor, your feet tingling with pins and needles.  You sit at your desk pondering over workbooks that have puzzles and questions, the paper shiny and smelling of chemicals.  You are afraid of this place.  Every day you leave hoping you’ll never have to return.

When you’re older, your Home Economics classroom is portioned up with tables and cookers, counters with food mixers and chopping boards.  In your memory the room smells of butter and sugar, beaten together in a china bowl until the mixture is a pale and creamy swirl.  Everything is brought to school in a biscuit tin, ingredients portioned into plastic bags or old margarine tubs.  In the classroom they are transformed and returned home, steaming in the same biscuit tin.

Your biology classroom is rows of counters, each one with a sink and a tall brassy faucet.  You once dissected an eyeball here, and possibly a frog.  One summer day the room is heavy with a heat that presses against your face, drawing the oxygen from your lungs like it wants to steal your life.  A boy sits in the row in front.  He wears thick-rimmed glasses and always brings a briefcase to school.  He is smart.  Today, you watch him sink into the chair and then slowly slide to the floor, the heat gleeful with such evident success. 

You learn your writing craft in a classroom at the top room of a castle beside a lake where swans nest amongst the reeds.  Regardless of the weather, inside the castle is always cold and cramped, its mullioned windows letting in little light.  But here you talk about writing for two hours every week, your fellow students sharing your passion.  You have found your tribe.  You absorb everything you possibly can in that year of learning, attending all the lectures, all the bonus talks by visiting writers, all the after-talk gatherings down the road at The Globe.  Your mind fizzles with conversations and ideas and a sense of belonging.

When you learn how to teach your craft yourself, the classrooms are bright and clean and brimming with technology that doesn’t always work, or you don’t always know how to work it.  You learn what it means to be in the moment.  To do your job you cannot be anywhere apart from that classroom, with those students, talking about that topic.  You learn to love this state of being, and at some point you realise you are in the same place as when you are writing.  You do not want to be anywhere else but here.

Now your classroom is often the screen of your laptop.  When you do make it to a classroom, a place of walls and desks and smiles behind masks, the room smells of whiteboard markers and cleaning fluid.  You’re aware of how clean everything is.  How diligently you’re being cared for by an unknown person.  And with the laptop comes a different kind of care.  To be in people’s homes while you share knowledge.  To be part of someone else’s journey.

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