A Fresh Coat of Paint—and a Fresh Outlook
June 3, 2019
June 3, 2019
By Courtney Cutright
I spend a significant chunk of time enclosed by the four walls of my classroom.
The building in which I teach was built in 1969, and renovating it is not even close to making the district’s list of capital improvement projects.
Now, my school is not deteriorating in the same way as some of the crumbling infrastructure elsewhere in the rural commonwealth featured in media reports. For the most part, our roof doesn’t leak; there are no trash cans indoors to catch rainwater; and with three power strips, I have adequate access to electricity to power students’ laptops.
But I do teach in an aging facility. We have issues with rodents and concerns about general cleanliness as a result of outsourced custodial services. The tables and chairs in my classroom are a hodgepodge; the legs of tables are wobbly and squeaky. A fresh coat of paint was long overdue.
The classrooms were painted this spring, and the small project had a big impact.
The walls of my room had been a dull yellow that looked like plaque-coated teeth in need of a good brushing. Remnants of poster putty and other adhesives pockmarked the surfaces.
I was displaced for a day while a crew painted three walls pristine white and the fourth was transformed into a dark green accent wall. The result was a brighter, cleaner space that felt more conducive to learning.
What was most surprising was the buzz among the faculty the minor renovation created and the morale boost that accompanied it. The fresh look made me feel good about my classroom space, which in turn made me feel better about my job.
I ooh’ed and aah’ed as my hallmates’ rooms were painted one by one. We enjoyed sneaking in a newly painted room each afternoon to peek at the metamorphosis.
After my turn, I felt a sense of gratitude. It was as though someone looked in my classroom and realized that what I do is important and felt the space in which I work deserved to look better for my students and for me.
Teachers spend our days solving problems. We know more than anyone about doing more with less and making do with whatever limited resources we have available.
School districts statewide are facing budget crunches; this is a problem that is not going away. I understand there is never enough to go around. Most of our district’s money is spent on salaries, and that is always a funding category in need of more dollars. When times are lean, I think routine projects like painting may be overlooked in favor of larger projects, such as multimillion-dollar building overhauls.
The lack of available funding is prompting educators to come up with creative ways to spruce up things.
My friend and colleague, Lauren Sprouse, is our library media specialist. The library was one of the first spaces to be repainted.
“I was able to have the library painted with bold, bright, modern colors, which immediately changed the whole feel of the space,” Sprouse said. “We noticed that the kids seemed to appreciate the newly painted space and that they seemed to care more about the library.”
Sprouse worked with a local furniture company to upgrade the space with areas for small, collaborative groups. Unfortunately, the furniture was so expensive Sprouse could only afford to purchase a tenth of her proposal, using money earned from book fair sales. She was able to purchase café-height tables and chairs, as well as a sofa and ottoman.
Sprouse then collaborated with our art teacher to update the bookcases with student artwork. Eighth-grade students created themed artwork to match the gentrified library collection, and the murals were permanently mounted to the tops of the shelves.
“It has totally changed the feel of the library and has really made the kids claim the space as their own,” Sprouse said.
I think she is on to something — maybe a little more TLC around the building will create a ripple effect that extends throughout the school.
Cutright (firstname.lastname@example.org), a member of the Roanoke County Education Association, teaches English at Northside Middle School.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, teachers in Virginia earn 32.7% less in weekly wages than other (non-teacher) college-educated workers. Virginia’s teacher wage penalty is the worst in the nation.Take Action Now