New Teacher Survival (series) #1: Setting up your first classroom

New Teacher Survival (series) #1: Setting up your first classroom

Let’s just get right into it! Here are three quick steps to set up your first classroom 🙂

1. Take Stock

If you are starting out your teaching career at a public school, in a classroom previously used by another teacher, you will probably be left with the dregs of furniture and junk. If that is not the case, you are lucky! I made the mistake of keeping all the items left by the previous tenant of my classroom and I never touched any of it. With the exception of books in decent condition, my advice is to throw it ALL away! It is best to start fresh.

The first thing to do after a good cleaning is think about your teaching style. This should determine the layout of your room. I prefer my students to be seated in cooperative groups. Four is ideal, but I’ve always had to do groups of six due to large class size. Depending on your grade level, you should also have a rug area. I recommend a group meeting area for all ages — if you have the space. I gather my fifth graders on our rug everyday for meetings and mini-lessons. I make it a point never to teach while they are all at their tables, too many distractions. You may not have a lot of space or choice in how you set up your tables, but you will most likely have a lot of empty walls. Do not feel obligated to cover every inch with decorations and posters, blank space is good for learning!

2. Design with a Purpose

“Oh Ms. ______ is such a good teacher! I learned so much from her campfire themed classroom!” said no student ever. Do a google search for classroom decorations, and you will be amazed at the elaborate designs out there. If some teachers spent as much time and money designing and planning lessons as they do decorating their classrooms, there would be no achievement gap. Okay, so I might be oversimplifying, but all of the research out there states that children need blank space, areas for their eyes to rest. I love the article, “The Culture of Cute,”  which describes how over-decorating has really become an epidemic in schools. And for what purpose? It certainly doesn’t help the students learn.

3. Resist the Urge to Over-Decorate

I’ll admit, I am a decorator. I love walking into teacher supply stores and finding that they have an entire aisle devoted to cute owl decorations. I allow myself one or two items, but that’s it! An owl sticker here or there, or even some owl pencils are not going to break the bank, and they will not distract from student learning. Decorating my classroom in floor to ceiling owls is not only expensive, it’s pointless. When you inevitably end up at the teacher supply store, or on TeachersPayTeachers.com, ask yourself, “What is the educational value of this item?” If the item’s sole purpose is to make your room “cute”, put it down, walk away, don’t look back. I also advise against buying pre-made “instructional” posters. You may find a poster that perfectly illustrates the water cycle, but your students won’t get much out of staring at it all year. It’s best to let them make their own. If you must have it, only take it out when you are teaching that particular unit, otherwise, it will just become a part of the landscape and the students won’t pay any attention to it. All you really need in terms of decor is space to display student work, which is decoration enough. A little fadeless paper and some tasteful borders should suffice! Remember, your classroom is a place for learning, it’s not your birthday party, it does not need a “theme”!

Now that your classroom is squared away, I’ll be sharing more ideas and suggestions as you venture on your path of becoming a teacher this year! Stay tuned!

This is part 1 of a 4 part series by Emily Dahm. Read Part 2 here, Part 3 here, and Part 4 here.