Classroom Design: 5 Annoying Design Choices

Classroom design is important – teachers everywhere spend time crafting the perfect space to teach their students and so often work within the confines of confusing and downright infuriating architectural choices made when the place was built.

We all know that sinking feeling when we find out we won’t be teaching in our own classroom – either for a one-off lesson or for the whole term. The extra hassle of being in a different space, of working out where resources are kept, of trekking across the school between lessons, is all part and parcel of the stress of being a teacher.

But even when you are safely ensconced in your own classroom for the foreseeable future, things are rarely perfect. Which gets me wondering: in modern schools, which have been designed specifically for the purpose of teaching, why do architects get so much wrong?

Here are my top five irritations of classroom design. If you’re an educational architect, please take note!

Lack of space

Teenagers can take up space. Try packing 32 of them into a room and you often find there’s not a spare inch of floor space. Circulating around the room involves squeezing between chairs in proximity which makes both yourself and the students feel uncomfortable. And if you’re not inching past the backs of chairs, you’re tripping over feet sprawling out from underneath tables. Many older teenage boys are as big as the average male –can you imagine asking 32 businessmen to hunch themselves behind ill-fitting desks, for six hours every day?

Lack of storage

Teaching is resource-heavy. Yes, many resources are electronic, but we still use texts occasionally, not to mention pens, sugar paper, scissors and the coveted glue sticks. And then there are the exercise books – if you teach ten classes of 30 students each, that’s a lot of books. This stuff all needs to be stored (preferably somewhere with a lock, so it can’t be snaffled).

The dazzle factor

I’m amazed by the number of classrooms I have been into where the board or projector is positioned opposite a window which gets sun at the height of the day – so you have the choice of teaching with a permanent squint, or lowering the blinds and subjecting students to darkness and/or artificial light.

Narrow corridors

OK, this isn’t the classroom as such, but it definitely has an impact on classroom entry. I can only think that this is because architects don’t do the maths – they don’t calculate how many students are going to be lining up in a corridor at the end of lunch or break. I’ve worked in schools where students are packed like sardines in corridors at transition time. It can lead to discomfort and irritability at best, and vandalism and fights at worst.

No knowledge of modern lessons

This is my top gripe. I wonder if many architects have actually been into today’s schools, to see how lessons are taught? If so, they would surely appreciate that putting a SmartBoard at the opposite end of the room to a whiteboard is not helpful. Or they would know that positioning a projector so that it can project onto a whiteboard is incredibly useful. Or they’d realise that putting the light switches miles away from the central teaching point can be difficult. The list goes on…

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