When you take a class, go to church, or attend a business meeting, do you tend to sit in the same seat every time? As a teacher/student, I’ve noticed that my students and I do exactly that. Wherever we choose to sit in the first class, we gravitate toward sitting in that same seat for the remainder of the semester. When we enter the classroom, church, or conference room to find someone else sitting in our seat, our psyches experience a mini moment of crisis.
I believe that one reason for this phenomenon is that we feel more comfortable when we have a place we can call our own, even if that place is one chair in a class we only attend once a week. That desk, that seat, becomes an extension of our personal space. Within that larger space of the classroom, we psychologically carve out a small spot that we unconsciously think of as “ours.”
I am a Ph. D. student and I pay for my education by working as a graduate assistant. In other words, I teach undergraduates who want to be middle grades teachers and UGA pays me in tuition and pocket money. One of the perks of my job as a graduate assistant last school year was that I was allotted one of three desks in a former broom closet that I shared with two other GAs. I spent many, many hours at that desk and, this may sound silly, but I grew to love my little corner desk in my little office. Since I commute to UGA an hour in each direction, I felt relieved knowing that I had one tiny desk in one tiny room on the huge UGA campus that was always available for me.
Today I had to remove all my items from my tiny little office, pack them up, and take them home (it all fit in one small box.) I’m finding that the loss of this personal space is traumatic in a way I would not have expected. For me, giving up my office is more than the inconvenience of having to carry all of my teaching supplies, books, coat, and computer everywhere I go. It’s more than losing a place to store stuff and having a flat surface and a quiet space in which to work. The fact is, there’s a psychological disconnect, that moment of crisis, involved when we lose a space we called our own.
Starting next week, I will share a small room containing about six workstations with the approximately 25 GAs in my department. There will be a set of cubby shelves, like the ones in yoga studios where you store your shoes, for the temporary storage of stuff while we teach or meet with a student. There will be a small “lounge” for us to use to collaborate or to eat a quick meal. If the workstations are occupied when I arrive at school, I will have to leave my department to find someplace else to work.
I acknowledge that this is not the biggest problem in the world. It is an inconvenience and nothing more. As a matter of fact, we were told in a very nice e-mail that GAs make the world go ‘round and that we are vital to the continued successful operation of the department. We should confidently work with students, with faculty, and with other GAs knowing that we are highly valued.
Maybe as I get used to the new arrangements, it won’t be so bad. I know where the local Starbucks is, and I may make it my new home. I won’t be available to confer with my students, faculty advisors, and other grad students without making prior arrangements, but that is something that all of us will have to deal with. Right now I feel disconnected, disengaged from my job, my studies, and my commitment to finish my Ph. D. at UGA. At this huge institution, I feel like there is no space for me. Too bad I’m not part of the highly-valued football program, eh?