Room 309: Decor in Wheeler and Grant’s classroom serves as teaching tool

Social studies teachers Mark Wheeler (left) and Robert Grant (right) cover their classroom’s walls with an eclectic collection of their keepsakes, trinkets and memories.

“It’s nice to have an eyeful here because, you know, you can’t be listening all the time,” said Grant.

“Yeah, definitely,” replied Wheeler, nodding his head in agreement.

An ‘eyeful,’ however, may be an underestimation of Room 309’s appearance.

Decorated with countless novelties, relics and keepsakes – among them an advertisement for a Negro American League baseball team; a royal blue, 1977 California license plate; a life-size raven, a Lightnin’ Hopkins record; and a Mary Wollstonecraft 2012 campaign poster – the walls of the third floor room shared by social studies teachers Robert Grant and Mark Wheeler appear to more closely resemble an eclectic scrapbook than white-washed walls.

“We just kind of put stuff up there,” said Wheeler. “We find something that we like and that’ll fill up space and we tack it up.”

Some classroom items, in addition to being aesthetically appealing, also have an intricate background story.

“I got a Brookline Education Foundation grant to canoe down the Susquehanna and observe 19th century economic infrastructure,” said Grant, referring to the narrow backpacker’s guitar resting on the far counter. “I needed that little guitar to take with me.”

Wheeler, a long time bird lover, has an affinity for a stuffed raven perched near the window.

“That bird’s been around. He’s been threatened by students, defaced and dangled out the window. He’s also been a prop in a school play,” said Wheeler. “English teachers grab him for Halloween when they’re doing Poe’s ‘The Raven.’ He’s even been in the yearbook once.”

The rusted California license plate hanging on the wall was another of Wheeler’s possessions.

“That was the original 1977 license plate on an orange Volkswagen van that I bought,” said Wheeler. “That’s a legitimate antique from California; they don’t make plates like that anymore.”

Perhaps more important than both appeal and background are the positive effects a visual can have on a student’s learning experience.

“Sometimes you’ve got to look at something many times or spend a lot of time looking at something to really understand it,” said Grant. “Now, if you sit at a desk all year long, you spend a lot of time looking at certain pictures and posters, and you’ll start to pick up on certain things.”

Grant imagined a student observation of a black-and-white poster profiling Satchel Paige, a famous mid-20th century pitcher who played in both the Negro leagues and in the MLB.

“OK, so this is arguably one of the greatest professional baseball pitchers of all time, and look at his shoes. Look at how worn out they are,” said Grant.

“We’ll do the civil rights movement each year, and in a way I think there are some kids who won’t respond to the Little Rock Nine. Or they won’t respond to freedom riders,” said Wheeler, adding to Grant, “but they like baseball. And for those kids, this picture could have a huge impact.”

Nate Birch can be contacted at [email protected]