Editor’s Note: This is the final post for the New Teacher Chat blog. You can see archived posts here.
When I accepted a teaching position last May I was so excited to finally be setting up my first classroom. I envisioned a space where the students could feel comfortable and inspired and I wanted the seating arrangement to be conducive to teamwork and collaboration. I also had a goal for the classroom to be a language-rich environment with inspirational quotes on the wall and a bookcase full of books for the students to look through and check out.
When I first saw the classroom in July, I was happy to find a relatively spacious room with two bright windows, but I was a little startled by how empty it was. I was then struck by the reality that in one month’s time the room would need to be ready for students to learn in. It was fairly overwhelming to acknowledge that I was creatively and financially responsible for making that happen. The creative part was fun, however as a brand new teacher, the financial investment required to set up a classroom was a bit of a shock. I wanted my students to have a classroom space that inspired them to read, write, and work together, so I ultimately felt like it was a worthwhile investment, but I wasn’t sure I could afford to outfit a classroom that was “pinterest worthy”.
So, to get the most for my money I searched Craigslist and garage sale sites for used office supplies and items for the classroom. I frequented Goodwill looking for novels the students might be interested in reading. I made posters and printed them out myself instead of buying pre-made classroom decor. I wanted the space to be cheerful and fun, but not too cutesy as to be a distraction.
Decorations I came up with included inspirational quotes and helpful writing tips, a growth mindset bulletin board, and of course, a big poster of the Bard. (I am an English teacher, after all). Most importantly, I accumulated a bookcase full of books for my students to browse and check out if they desire.
Next, I needed to decide how to arrange the seating. As I mentioned before, I wanted cooperative learning to be a major focus in the classroom, so I arranged the desks in small groups of four and five to encourage collaboration. So far, I have been very happy with this arrangement. The challenge is figuring out where to move students when groups are not working as well as I would like. But, I would assume that adjusting student seating to find the optimal place for students is something that a skilled teacher would do with any seating arrangement.
I knew that I needed to establish good routines with my students right off the bat, so I thought of ways that the classroom environment could contribute to organization and smooth transitions. A designated space on my board for a weekly schedule and bell work has been incredibly helpful. The students have learned to check the board when they walk into the classroom and begin working on whatever activity is listed. They are also able to check the weekly schedule if they have been absent. I also have a designated spot for the students to pick up work and to turn in work which eliminates the extra time I would be spending handing out and picking up papers.
Finally, I have established a house system for all of my classes, which I write about in this post. Each of my classes has a house name and color. I have a corresponding folder for each house on my desk which helps me to keep papers organized. I have been shocked at how easily my desk can go from moderately organized to completely and utterly chaotic in the span of one day, so this file organizer I scored from a garage sale site has been extremely useful in keeping the papers from each house organized.
So, Lisa, what other recommendations could you make to improve my classroom space? As I go through the year, I will be looking for ways to make my classroom more welcoming. I will also be continually brainstorming ways to use the space to increase efficiency and productivity. I look forward to hearing about smart and creative ways in which you have transformed a dull, empty space into a place where kids want to learn.
Show a newbie some love and connect with Amanda on Twitter; her handle is @ateacherstory.
Photo credit: Amanda Becker
The opinions expressed in The New Teacher Chat: Advice, Tips, and Support are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.