During teacher orientation of my first year of teaching, I was shown my new classroom and told to set it up however I liked. There were twenty-four desks, two chalk boards, one white board and a whole lot of gray wall. The floor was ratty carpet – stained and torn in places – and I couldn’t imagine a more depressing learning environment.
Nowadays, classrooms rarely have windows, which are thought to distract young minds from school work, but I had two, and they were my only asset. One looked out onto the student parking lot, and the other offered a view of the high school courtyard. As classrooms go, I suppose I was lucky, but I had no idea how to decorate.
Now, after years of experience, I have learned how to prepare a classroom for learning. Different schools possess varying degrees of rules where decorating a classroom is concerned, but in most cases teachers have options.
During my first semester of teaching, I placed my desk in the back of the classroom because I thought it would be nice to make more room for lecturing in the front. That was the first and last time I ever made that mistake. Now, my desk sits catty-corner on the left-hand side of the room, at the front. I put it here because from my vantage point, I can watch every student in my classroom.
I’m an advocate of decorating the teacher’s desk because it brings a sense of the teacher’s personality into the classroom. Learning isn’t all about rules and codes of conduct, but also about connecting with students. I see no reason why teachers shouldn’t place photographs, mementos and personal objects on their desks, as long as they are of a squeaky-clean nature. I bring a lamp from home so that I can work after hours without the glaring fluorescent lights in my eyes, and I also put pictures of my kids on the corners.
The Students’ Desks
There are a myriad of ways to arrange desks in a classroom, and I know teachers who rearrange every semester to break the monotony. My desks have been arranged in the same way since my third year of teaching, however, but only because it works for me.
Here is my advice: get creative! If you teach grade school, you might want to place your desks in groups of four to promote teamwork and group projects. Junior High desks work very well in rows because pre-adolescent youngsters can be difficult to control.
In my room, the desks are arranged around the perimeter of the classroom. I leave the front space open for lecturing, and the middle area of the classroom is likewise empty of desks. This method seems to facilitate debate and discussion among students, but doesn’t inhibit my ability to lecture.
For high school classrooms, be careful of turning desks away from the point at which you most frequently lecture. If you’ll remember back to your days in high school, it was never much fun to have to listen to a lecture with your back to the teacher, having to twist and turn to see what was written on the blackboard.
High school students are not impressed by flamboyant colors, archaic quotations or juvenile posters. In fact, while I’m on the subject, here is a list of sayings that should not adorn your walls:
1. There is no “I” in TEAM.
2. Learning is fun!
3. Focus on the “Can;” Not the “Can’t”
4. Student Xing
If my colleagues read this, they will be offended, but I can’t stand looking at the same posters anymore, and neither can your students. They’ve heard it and seen it all before, and throwing clichÃ?Â©s at them from every corner will not be conducive to learning. If you must purchase posters from a teachers’ supply store, look for the ones that are frequently purchased.
I make my own posters to place on classroom walls. I print quotations from little-known philosophers and brilliant minds and put them all over my walls. I’ve found that they’re excellent tie-ins to literature, and that they often inspire conversation.
Your Blackboard or Whiteboard
Every day, before I begin class, I write the agenda for the day on my whiteboard to keep the classroom focused. I also add a “Quote of the Day” (can you tell I’m into quotes?) that we might or might not discuss before we begin the day’s lesson. You might want to string a border around your blackboard or whiteboard; I know that some teachers put up a new one for every season.
Have you ever walked into a classroom and wondered how students focused on the lecture with so much to distract them from above? I’ve seen countless classrooms in which decorations of all kinds were hung from the ceiling. I even saw one in which posters were taped between the lights.
Other than science classrooms, where planets or stars might be hung, I don’t find that ceiling decorations are appropriate. I would keep your decorating to the walls.
Themes & Trends
As I said in the beginning, your classroom should be your own, and it should reflect your personality. If you like cows, why not put cows everywhere? Or if you love Shakespeare, put posters featuring Hamlet and Macbeth on your walls. Let your students come to know you and your space, and you will have a much more fulfilling year.
Remember that themes can be changed year ’round, and that your initial ideas are merely a jumping-off point to get the creative juices flowing. Peek into veteran teachers’ classrooms before you begin to decorate your own to get an idea of what others do to make their classrooms unique and special.